The figurative language of Curtis Sittenfeld

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I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about similes from the American writer Curtis Sittenfeld….

I heard about novelist Curtis Sittenfeld thanks to the release of her 2020 book, an alternate political novel about the life of Hillary Clinton. The novel, which is called Rodham, diverges from reality at the point where Hillary chooses not to marry Bill Clinton and enters political life as a single woman.

But I was more interested in the 2008 novel An American Wife which had received better reviews. This earlier book tells the story of Alice Blackwell, a fictional character who shares many similarities with former First Lady Laura Bush, including a tragic 1963 car accident when she was 17 years old. (Bush had run a stop sign and struck another car, killing its driver, who happened to be a close friend and classmate.)

The novel seeks to answer the question, what did Laura (Welch) Bush — a well educated, intelligent, thoughtful woman — see in George W. Bush, a political man who was a drinker, and clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer? The book provides an entertaining and plausible explanation.

Although Curtis Sittenfeld does not employ a great deal of figurative language, her uses of it are both sophisticated and interesting. Here are my favourite examples:

  • His ongoing bad mood had not obliterated his usual personality; it was more that it accompanied it, like a sidecar on a motorcycle.
  • I could see Ella eyeing these nineteen- and twenty-year-olds, and I knew they were creating formative ideas for her of what it was to be a college student when in fact a student at Princeton University was as representative of a larger type as a thoroughbred racehorse or a Stradivarius violin.
  • Once or twice a year I type my name into an Internet search engine…and skimming the results makes me feel as if someone is turning a doorknob inside my stomach.
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