The figurative language of John von Sothen

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 similes from John von Sothen….

I will never buy a book because it has a pretty or interesting or compelling cover. But I will occasionally buy one because its title grabs me.

The book, Monsieur Mediocre by John von Sothen falls into that category. A couple of issues added to its appeal for me. First, I heard the book described on a New York Times podcast. The host pronounced the first word, Monsieur, with an impeccable French accent, all rounded vowels. And she gave the second word, Mediocre, a flat and nasal North American twang. It was hilarious!

As well, I’m trying to learn French right now, spending at least 30 minutes a day on my Duo Lingo lessons. As a result, the book’s subtitle also appealed: One American Learns the High Art of Being Everyday French.

In any case, von Sothen is a very funny writer who is known for his work in the French Vanity Fair, GQ, EsquireBon Appétit, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and SlateLibération. 

Here are my favourite examples of his figurative language from his latest book:

  • Mom’s approach to cuisine came from her art school days, inspiration hitting her on the spot. The ingredients she chose were paints you’d throw at a canvas, each chosen for its color and texture rather than its taste. If your fava beans didn’t click with the polenta? All you had to do was toss in a kilo of shrimp and the pink would bring out the dull off-white.
  • As I grew older, I felt less like a milk bottle missing child and more like a grad student living in a rooming house.
  • I would know dinner was ready not because they’d call me, but because I’d see smoke sneaking under my bedroom door.
  • Once we sat down at the table, he’d play with his food like a cat would a ball, moving it around his plate, craning his head, trying to find the right way to attack it.
  • Mom’s voice had hardened, giving her the air of a pissed-off Elizabeth Taylor.
  • You also conveniently forget lavender soap kind of smells like bad detergent.
  • There were porcelain ashtrays by the dozens. Crystal decanters. The fireplace had three sets of pokers. There were iron doorstops by every door. It was as if every object was standing in line, patiently waiting its turn to be used.
  • And amidst this Miss Havisham clutter sat Granny in her living room, aboard a leather coach….
  • She [an obstetrician] also carried index cards, one for each patient, which she kept nestled in the front pocket of her scrubs. It was as if they were cue cards and she was an actress shooting the role of a doctor.
  • When I scanned the room, I saw five or six swaddled newborns and one miniature 1920s actress. Bibi had round eyes the size of saucers, chalky white skin, and dainty fingers that seemed already capable of needlepoint.