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.