The figurative language of Katherine Heiny

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 novelist Katherine Heiny….

I seldom read what might be described as “chick-lit.” That kind of writing usually doesn’t appeal to me. I can’t recall why I made an exception for Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny (I think perhaps another celebrated author had recommended it) but I’m so glad I read this exceptionally funny novel. That’s Heiny, pictured at the top of this column.

Almost nothing happens in the book but the writing is sharp and astute and the characters are distinct and interesting. Heiny also has her figurative language (mostly similes) nailed, as the following examples demonstrate:

  • A silence spread between them like a puddle of oil, shiny and dangerous.
  • Then he glanced over at Audra, still sewing in a little pool of lamplight, the auburn in her hair glinting like tinsel.
  • The Akela was carrying a wineglass—the sight of it lifted Graham’s spirits like a scrap of paper tied to a weather balloon; alcohol wasn’t banned at this party!
  • And now here was Matthew, chatting away, holding his own, while Graham and Audra stood there, as superfluous as the leftover screws that roll around on the floor after you assemble a bookcase.
  • Her name was Olivia and she had long dark hair with heavy bangs. She always looked out from under the bands like an excited cat peering from under a chair….
  • The Rosemund was just as Graham thought it would be—glossy and hard-edged, with so many chrome and stainless steel fixtures that it seemed as though the apartment were wearing braces.
  •  The [mocasins] looked new and stiff, nothing like the ones Graham wore at home, which bulged out at the sides like a hamster’s cheeks.
  • He glanced across the table at Elspeth and their eyes caught for a second, like two coat hangers before you shake them free of each other.
  • Bellamy was a short lady in her late seventies, so stout that she appeared to have no breasts and no waist, like a giant pincushion covered in blue fabric.
  • …Elspeth would come along right behind him and readjust the chair or candlestick by an inch. It was as though she didn’t want objects in her apartment to get the wrong idea and start thinking Graham was the boss.
  • Right now, Graham wanted desperately to be someone like Julio, who smoked cigarettes in the dark, the tips of them red as lipstick, hot as tears.
  • And then she picked up the water bottles and went off to put them in the hall storage cupboard, the pom-poms on the backs of her socks bogging up and down like twin sailboats on a choppy sea.
  • Lorelei’s vintage Coke machine stood proudly in their living room, as immovable as a tree whose roots have cracked and lifted the sidewalk.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Oct. 17/21.

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