The figurative language of Elizabeth Strout

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 similes and metaphors from Elizabeth Strout…

I’ve admired the writing of Elizabeth Strout (pictured above) ever since I read her remarkable Pulitzer-Prize winning novel Olive Kitteridge. For her acute attention to detail and for her plain, simple language, beautifully expressed, I like to call Strout an American Alice Munro.

Strout’s novel Anything is Possible almost matches Olive Kitteridge, with its unforgettable cast of small-town characters, and exquisite figurative language. Here are my favourite examples of that writing in her new book:

  • The entire town talked of her mother’s affair with Mr. Delaney, and to Patty it felt like her head had been cut off and was moving in a different direction from her body.
  • Panic, like a large minnow darting upstream, moved back and forth inside him.
  • When Pete looked at Lucy, he saw that she had no lipstick on, and he felt a tiny shudder go through him, as though his soul had a toothache.
  • Dottie was, in fact, a bit older than Mrs. Small, but Dottie had taken to the Internet like a paddlefish waiting for water…
  • She gave Dottie a quick smile then, and what passed over her face was a look that cause Dottie to feel for a moment as if a small fish had swum through her stomach, a feeling she recognized as s symptom of— well, almost pity, though pity was a confusing thing, Dottie would hate for people to pity her, as she knew had been done in the past.
  • She kept his registration form the way a child would keep a ticket stub as a souvenir of a special day.
  • Her grandmother’s house was a small square house, and in the long white months of winter the house seemed stark and bare naked, the windows like eyes stuck open, looking toward the farm.
  • The walk back up the road to her house, holding her father’s hand, the fields quieting in their brightness, the trees darkening to a navy green, the milky sun that was the color of the snow.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on  Feb. 22/18.

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