The figurative language of Jonathan Franzen…

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 and similes from Jonathan Franzen….

I’ve never been a huge fan of Jonathan Franzen. I found his 2001 novel — a satirical family drama — The Corrections, to be overrated. Nevertheless, I resolved to read his 2015 novel, Purity, the story of a young woman struggling to make a life for herself in the age of the internet. I was surprised to discover Franzen’s deft hand with metaphorical language.

Here are my favourite examples:

  • The skin on the back of [her hands] wasn’t pink and opaque like her own skin. It was as if the bones and veins were working their way to the surface; as if the skin were water receding to expose shapes at the bottom of the harbor.
  • Speaking the word sister again was like tossing a match into an often full of unlit gas, the ready-to-combust anger that she walked around with every day; it was a kind of whoosh inside her head.
  • Like her mother, Pip was coming to preferred drizzle and heavy fog, for their absence of reproach.
  • A drawback of email was that you could only delete it once: couldn’t crumble it up, fling it to the floor, stomp on it, rip it to shreds, and burn it.
  • Texans looked down on the other forty-nine states with a gracious kind of pity.
  • Her guilt was so large that it was gravitational, warping space and time, connecting through non-Euclidean geometry to the guilt she hadn’t felt while wrecking Charles’s marriage.
  • Walker bent down closer to her. His face was like a stained map of somewhere densely populated.
  • Screeching acid-green parakeets executed group dives from cliff faces, their wings hissing loudly as they swooped past.
  • Obscene amounts of pollen were in the air, the trees burdened with the bright dust of their own fertility, the swollen nests of their leaves.
  • The New Jersey sky was a low-hanging steam bath of churning flocculants, darkening and then yellow only brightening in random places that gave no clue about the sun’s actual location or, thus, about what time was or where East and West might be.
  • It was a forest of big grey sticks, the same metallic color as the sky.
  • I was still so thin in 1991 that I didn’t really have a body at all. What I had was more like an armature of coat-hanger wire with a few key sensory parts attached to it… I was like a thing drawn by Joan Miró.
  • All we ever argued about was nothing. As if by multiplying zero content by infinite talk we could make it stop being zero.
  • The moon above us, in the Philly haze was a dissolving beige lozenge.
  • Dreyfuss’s garage door was loose in its frame and weakened by dry rot. Even the hardest-hit balls hopped back from it with a puppyish lack of aggression.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on July 19/18.

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