The figurative language of Jean Hanff Korelitz

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 Jean Hanff Korelitz…

Probably because I’m the mother of triplets, several people recommended a new novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz to me.

Titled The Latecomer, the book tells the life story of a set of triplets, born via IVF. But the latecomer of the title is a child born some 20 years later as a full sibling, because her genetic material had been preserved in a freezer.

The story isn’t so much about triplets, as it’s about complex family dynamics. None of the siblings get along with each other or their parents. But the book is extremely well written and displays some very fine figurative language.

Here are my favourite examples:

  • The bald fact was that our parents met in central New Jersey, in a conservative synagogue that looked like a brutalist government building somewhere in the Eastern Bloc.
  • When the four of them met for dinner, always at a restaurant with hushed service and frightening silverware, Selda asked solicitously about her mother and father and brother and sister.
  • Having produced him they seemed to have retreated to a respectful distance at the edges of his childhood, politely applauding and dutifully accompanying him through those formative years but opting to leave some parts of the business of parenting to people better suited, which in this case meant nobody.
  • Harrison [thought] that he might actually be struggling with the material: concepts that didn’t click through the synapses in his head, arguments that fell apart as he attempted to build them, pieces of writing he understood to be eloquent and brilliant but which spun in verbal tapioca as he tried to get through them.
  • Deep inside him, so deep even he would not have known how to excavate it was the rank, gangrenous fear that he was not entirely the intellectual being he had long ventriloquized.
  • The youngest child was the rabbi’s little boy, who spoke with a lisp that made most of the girls in the room say “Awww” in such unison it might have been rehearsed.
  • It [a song] was supposed to be clever, but it wasn’t. Not every musical Jewish boy was Stephen Sondheim.
  • There was a tall man in a vaguely Aztec getup featuring a green dotted skirt with a fringe of beads, a fake black bear, and a towering headdress that might have looked over-the-top on Carmen Miranda.
  • She had let her hair grow past the crew cut for the first time I could remember, and it brushed her shoulders, dark as root beer but now run with silvery strands as well. 
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