The figurative language of Karen Joy Fowler

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 Karen Joy Fowler…

Described by a Guardian review as “a provocative take on family love,” the book We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, is one of the best novels I’ve read in the last 12 months. In addition to a captivating plot (about family dysfunction and animal rights) and utterly engaging characters, the book also offers a panoply of fine figurative language.

Fowler, pictured above, seems to specialize in similes, as you can see below.

  • My father was himself a college professor and a pedant to the bone. Every exchange contained a lesson, like the pit in a cherry.
  • He had brown hair and the shadows of freckles dusted like snow over his cheekbones, an old scar curving across the bridge of his nose and ending way too close to his eye.
  • The sun was down but the horizon still a scarlet slash. Crows were rioting in the trees.
  • Our mother was vaporous. She emerged from her bedroom only at night and always in her nightgown, a sheath of flowered flannel with a disturbingly childlike bow at the neck. She’d stopped combing her hair so that it twisted about her face, chaotic as smoke, and her eyes were so sunken they looked bruised.
  • Granma always left before our father returned from work, sometimes telling me not to say she’d been there, because conspiracy is folded into her DNA like egg whites into angel food cakes.
  • “I’m praying for you all,” she told me, appearing at our door one morning, holding a tin of chocolate chip cookies and backlit like an angel by a soft autumn sun.
  • And then, one night at super, Lowell said suddenly, “Fern really loved corn on the cob. Remember what a mess she’d make?” and I got a flash of yellow kernels pasted across Fern’s little pegs of teeth like bugs in a screen door.
  • Not long ago he’d been a young professor on the rise, gathering in grants and graduate students like eggs at Easter.
  • She was mowing their lawn and the motor of the mower had a sleepy distant hum, like bees.
  • She was wearing a bald terry-cloth bathrobe of a faded pink and had a smear of dirt across her forehead as if it were Ash Wednesday.
  • Todd’s room smelled like pizza, probably because there were two old slices in a box on his desk, tips curling up like the tongues of old shoes.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Feb. 8/18.

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