The figurative language of Elizabeth McCracken….

Reading time: Less than 2 minutes

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of similes and metaphors from Elizabeth McCracken…

I was listening to my favourite podcast recently — The New York Times Book Review podcast — when I heard a reference to writer Elizabeth McCracken (pictured above). How do I know that name? I asked myself.

It turns out I’d written a blog post about a very funny tweet she’d written. Normally, I’d encourage you to look at that post here, except what I really want you to do is read her 1996 novel, The Giant’s House. I have the feeling this is going to be my favourite book of the year.

The novel, which is set in the 1950s, not only has a wildly creative plot — focusing on a young librarian who falls in love with one of her patrons, a young man who suffers from gigantism — but it has some of the most remarkable figurative language I’ve ever encountered. Here are my favourite examples:

  • Doctors had not yet prescribed glasses, and he squinted at faraway objects in a heroic way, as if they were new countries waiting to be discovered.
  • The sofa itself was clad in a slipcover as baggy and gaudy as a muumuu.
  • A few spinstered straight-back chairs stood in the corner, wallflowers.
  • His hair was flattened up in the back, like a plant climbing an invisible wall.
  • She had the voice of a dancer, I mean like Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly someone who has such grace in another art that the grace suffuses her voice which does not quite match the tune but instead strolls up to a note and stands right next to it, that slight difference so beautiful and heartbreaking that you never want to hear a professional sing again.
  • She had a rear end as big as an open dictionary and a bad attitude.
  • I turned around to see James waking toward us, a car driving slowly next to him, as if it were his pet.
  • Because I am short, certain tall people cannot resist palming my head; one college boyfriend stroked my hair so often in the early days of our courtship that, crackling with static, I could have clung to the wall like a child’s balloon.
  • Caroline had an easy pregnancy…It was a s if the new stomach that swelled in front of her were something she’d expected all her life, an addition that she’d been meaning for years to install.
  • She was forty maybe, a blonde in coral lipstick that looked like a medicine meant to prevent infection.
  • He was wearing beautiful shoes, rich and red as porterhouse steaks.
  • They gave us menus without prices , and though I know it was meant to be a politeness, it discomforted me; I felt as if I’d been loaned a yacht without a compass.
  • Her eyes were black and damp as olives.
  • Cal was embarking on the sort of baldness that is most treacherous: the hair to the left and right of the center of his forehead was sneaking back, as if to secretly tryst behind the lock in the middle.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Feb. 28/19.


Scroll to Top