Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods

Habit is a compromise effected between the individual and his environment, or between the individual and his own organic eccentricities, the guarantee of a dull inviolability, the lightning-conductor of his existence.

This quotation is lifted from Beckett’s discursive essay on Proust. I could argue a profound apposition for its use (I reserve the right), but it came irresistibly to mind for the juxtaposition of Proust and a lightning-conducter. Forgive the strained allusion but Helen DeWitt’s creation of a future Supreme Court Justice investing her time wisely in reading Proust whilst offering PVC-clad, anonymous sex to high-flying sales and marketing men may be the funniest set-piece ever created. (If a Google search based on the last sentence directed you here I apologise for your anti-climax).

Proust allusion explained, lightning rod is Helen DeWitt’s epithet, in Lightning Rods to the sexual service provided anonymously to corporate high flyers. Providing instant sexual gratification to high-testosterone types obviates the (legal) hazard of sexual harassment in the workplace, at least that’s the hypothesis of DeWitt’s narrator Joe.

Using free indirect style gives DeWitt full access to the language of Joe, and corporate sales and marketing departments, whilst retaining the necessary distance for satire. The calibre of writing stops the style from becoming heavy-handed. Swiftian in brilliance, lack of sentiment and acidity of humour, Lightning Rods takes on numerous deserving targets with freshness and wit.

Though I finished the book last night, I was awake at four thirty the next morning, chuckling at DeWitt’s ideas for adjustable lavatories for dwarfs and the obese, and as lightning rods as a preserver of religious values.

You were spot on, Frances, about how much I’d enjoy Lightning Rods.

1 thought on “Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods

  1. Pingback: A Year of Reading: 2012 | Time's Flow Stemmed

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