Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt

Salesman Joe wants to be a success. He’s sold encyclopaedias and he starts to sell vacuum cleaners, but all he manages to get are slices of pie rather than sales so he holes up in his trailer and spends the day fantasising about having sex with a woman who is only naked from the waist down. As she continues to appear unaffected from the front, going about her daily business, Joe pounds away from behind, her face a mask of propriety, the hidden parts of her body given over to his desire.

He knows it’s a strange fantasy, one he’s worried doesn’t suit the go-getting salesman whose tips for success scatter the pages of the novel in unceasing capitalist optimism.

Then Joe realises he can sell his fantasy to solve the problem of potential sexual harassment cases in the workplace. Crazy as it sounds his idea actually takes off and the women in a million, the lightning rods that he looks for to press their behinds through a hole in the wall make fascinating characters all of whom, Joe included, unravel the consumer, capitalist, patriarchal, intolerant mores of the American Dream through comedy in the way American Psycho does it through horror. Morals are immaterial in the world of the salesman. If you can sell something to one set of people, you can probably sell a guarantee of its absence to another. Who cares what you’re selling as long as you’re being paid and getting on in the world.

It’s weird, it’s funny, it’s playful and bizarre. First published in 2011 this novel seems to predict the strange, game show host world we live in now. You’ll know if this is a book for you. Its social and political satire, though amusing, is also thought-provoking and surprising, forcing the reader to rethink their own judgements about the simplest of decisions. 

I’ll be reviewing Keeper by Jessica Moor next.

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