Home > Book Review, Books, Literature > Randall Reads: ‘Lightning Rods’ by Helen DeWitt

Randall Reads: ‘Lightning Rods’ by Helen DeWitt

After the first 30 pages or so of this book, I set it down at the dining room table and walked away, shaking my head. I told my wife what I had just read. It seemed ridiculous, and it was hard to gauge where the story could possibly be going from there. It just was very far removed from the sort of thing I normally read.

Eventually, I continued. As I did, I started to enjoy the absurd nature of the events of the book, but didn’t think about it more than that.

The book meandered to a close at some point, to which my reaction was something along the lines of “Okay…?”

When the 2012 Tournament of Books entrants were announced, I went to the Seattle Public Library website and quickly placed holds on all the books I’d not yet read (most of them), figuring I’d read first whichever books first became available. Simple enough plan, eh?

‘Lightning Rods’ I didn’t even have to put on hold. It was not checked out. Maybe now I should have taken that and the fact that it was the only book of the 16 I’d not read one shred about. In fact, I didn’t recall ever even hearing of it or the author. Not unreasonable, but I read a lot about books. Just the nature of how the ToB qualifies its entrants, I’d have had to have heard of it!

But I hadn’t. Now I can somewhat piece together why.

It’s an unnecessary fleshing out of an absurd premise. The skeleton of a story that stands as the novel, to me, shows that there’s not a lot of substance behind it.

Of course, this may all very well be the point of Helen DeWitt in how she wrote it. The characters are extremely thin, which would be a sign it’s all to the point.

But I didn’t get the point. If I explained the premise of this book to you over a cup of coffee (not even a ‘venti,’ just a tall), you’d likely walk away thinking you’d like to read the book, even though I’d be trying to assure you, “Look, everything I just told you in this thumbnail sketch? That’s it! That’s all there is to it!”

There’s no character development or pleasant-to-the-ear prose, which are two of the things I enjoy most about a book. Throw that atop a very superficial story…just not much to recomment.

Finally, the one thing I keep reading about this book now is how funny it is. I would say the premise is funny, again, in a completely absurd way (which, as a huge Monty Python devotee, should work for me), but the odds you’ll be chuckling even every ten pages is remote.

I’ve moved on to “Salvage the Bones.” Much more my speed.

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