Alix Ohlin’s figurative language….

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of metaphors from writer Alix Ohlin…

Three years ago, I picked up a novel by Canadian writer Alix Ohlin, from a shelf in a condo in California — back in the days when we were able to take vacations like that.

Initially, I feared the book Inside — would be chick lit but, in the end, was surprised and delighted to discover the insight and fine writing concealed in this story of four complex characters in present day Montreal.

Ohlin holds a magna cum laude undergrad degree from Harvard University and a master’s in fine arts degree in writing from the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently chair of the creative writing program at the University of BC, where I live. 

I sought out her most recent bookDual Citizens, earlier this year and was impressed both by the story (about two damaged and highly creative sisters) and Ohlin’s considerable ease with figurative language. Here are my favourite examples:

  • Even at that age I was a collector of patterns, a magpie in search of scraps.
  • In the picture she showed us, his blond hair cantilevered out from his forehead in a commanding ledge, beneath which protruded an equally monumental jawline; he seemed built of powerful structures, tightly girded and trussed.
  • I liked her, though it was hard to get used to sleeping next to anyone but my sister, and Helen snored in delicate bursts, like tiny thunderstorms rolling past.
  • Although I knew how much she practiced, I was still sometimes surprised by her intense, almost devotional seriousness; it was like realizing your sister was a nun, betrothed to God.
  • She was even younger than I’d thought, maybe eighteen, her sophistication spackled over her nervous energy.
  • Marianne had been right: she was thin and raw-boned, skin peeling and lips chapped, stripped and weathered like a house untended.
  • Outside the barn fireflies freckled the night.
  • There’s no worse place to sleep than a hospital. Even in the darkness the hallways whispered with intent.
  • Robin put down her cigarette and rubbed her right eye with the palm of her hand, hard, like a window washer working on a stubborn streak.
  • The conversation was like standing on a boat and watching the shore recede: for a moment, as you watch, it’s impossible to tell whether it’s you or the land that’s moving.
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