James McBride’s figurative language…

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 metaphors from James McBride….

I’ve been a dedicated reader since I was six years old. But if you backed me up against a wall and forced me to declare a favourite genre, I’d admit that I prefer memoir to just about anything else….

Earlier this year, The New York Times published a list of the 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 years. Of course, I had read many of them already. (My own faves? This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff and Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy.)

But many of the titles were new to me and I’ve been slowly reading my way through the list. The book, The Color of Water, by James McBride falls into this category.

A 1995 bestseller, The Color of Water describes the early life of American writer and musician James McBride.  One of 12 children, he grew up in a large, poor American-African family that was led by his white Jewish mother. McBride’s mother was strict and the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi.

But while the story itself is fascinating, it’s McBride’s figurative language that truly captured me. Here are my favourite examples:

  • She rode so slowly that if you looked at her from a distance it seemed as if she weren’t moving, the image frozen, painted against the spring sky, a middle-aged white woman on an antique bicycle with black kids zipping past her on Sting-Ray bikes and skateboards, popping wheelies and throwing baseballs that whizzed past her head, tossing firecrackers that burst all around her.
  • She was the commander in chief of my house because my stepfather did not live with us
  • [She] ran a comb through my hair. The sensation was like a tractor pulling my curls off.
  • It became the high point of my day, a memory so sweet it is burned into my mind like a tattoo.
  • Mommy’s contradictions crashed and slammed against one another like bumper cars at Coney Island.
  • Every year the mighty bureaucratic dinosaur known as the New York City Public School System would belch forth a tiny diamond: they slipped a little notice to parents giving them the opportunity to have their kids bused to different school districts if they wanted.
  • In summer she was the Pied Piper, leading the whole pack of us to public swimming pools, stripping down to her one-piece bathing suit and plunging into the water like a walrus, the rest of following her like seals, splashing and gurgling in terror behind her…