The figurative language of J. Courtney Sullivan….

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 from J. Courtney Sullivan…

I had never heard of the American author J. Courtney Sullivan (pictured above) until I read her novel Saints for All Occasions.  While I enjoyed the book — the story of a pair of Irish sisters who immigrate to Boston — I found the writing very uneven. It was beautiful and lyrical one moment, and tired and hackneyed, the next.

In researching this blog post, however, I learned that Sullivan has produced a number of highly-praised bestsellers including the Commencement, Main and The Engagements. I saw enough promise in Saints that I’m happy to read more of her books to develop a more fully formed judgement.

Meanwhile, enjoy some of Sullivan’s fine figurative images, expressed mainly as similes — with the exception of the last, showing personification.

  • Nora wondered if beneath the collared shirts and school picture day haircuts they were as wicked as their father and grandfather had once been. It seemed to her that a duplicitous nature must run in a family, like twins or weak knees.
  • He had terrified Nora when she was a girl, once her mother was gone, his temper raging over a cup of spilled milk as if his children were a punishment.
  • But when Charlie came upon her alone in the hall at Mrs. Quinlan’s and kissed her neck in rapid motion, like a woodpecker tapping on a tree, her body tightened up in refusal.
  • “Did you get an allowance at least?” Maeve asked. “Heavens no. An allowance!’” Nora said it as if an allowance were a baby giraffe or a Lamborghini.
  • It had been ten years since she’d washed baby clothes, since she’d smelled the bitter loveliness released by a bowl of Pablum as she stirred warm milk into the papery flakes.
  • Now she saw that marriage was like being in a three-legged race with the same person for the rest of your life. Your hopes, your happiness, your luck, your moods, all yoked to his.
  • From this close up, Kitty’s deep wrinkles seemed punishing. Her face looked like the shell of a walnut.
  • It felt strange being in their company out of context, like running into your third-grade teacher on a date at the mall.
  • The roast beef and turkey had gone quickly. Now there was just the odd tuna salad, mayonnaise breeding bacteria between neat triangles of white bread.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Nov. 30/17.

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