Novels From the Edge: For Helen DeWitt, the Publishing World Is a High-Stakes Game

Lightning Rods is about a salesman named Joe who fails to sell a single Encyclopedia Britannica and sells exactly one Electrolux vacuum cleaner. He realizes the problem isn’t with him. The problem is with other people. He needs to sell “something people knew they needed anyway.” He sets up a business of contracted female administrative assistants—nicknamed Lightning Rods—that have anonymous sex with the male employees in an office through a glory hole in the bathroom. He says he can convince people that this is a substitute for ordinary sex, and a way of guarding against workplace sexual harassment. The idea sweeps the nation and changes everything. Ms. DeWitt gives the last word of her novel to George Washington: “In America anything is possible.”

Published: Dec 21, 2011
Length: 12 minutes (3,070 words)