The figurative language of Kent Haruf

Reading time: About 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 Kent Haruf…

Masterful American author Kent Haruf, who died in 2014, worked in a variety of places before he started writing. These included a chicken farm in Colorado, a construction site in Wyoming, a rehabilitation hospital in Denver, a hospital in Phoenix, a presidential library in Iowa, an alternative high school in Wisconsin, and colleges in Nebraska and Illinois and as an English teacher with the Peace Corps in Turkey.

But he earned earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1973 and went on to teach at Nebraska’s Wesleyan University. Haruf characteristically wrote with a cap pulled over his eyes, so he couldn’t see what he was writing (and therefore he wasn’t tempted to edit right away.) All of his novels take place in the fictional town of Holt, in eastern Colorado. Holt is based on Yuma, Colorado, one of Haruf’s residences in the early 1980s.

His 1984 novel, The Tie that Binds, tells the story of a woman almost undone by the demands of American rural life, and the steps she took to save her self-respect. But it was Kent Haruf’s figurative language that really spoke to me.

Here are my favourite examples:

  • He was all stringy arms and legs, with an Adam’s apple like a hickory nut that jugged up and down when he chewed or said something.
  • Then my dad would go back to work and not say anything, but you could see that he had his mouth set hard like a horse will do with a curb bit.
  • He studied me some more, examining me now as if I was maybe a little less dangerous than corn blight.
  • He fit into her scheme like an obedient poodle.
  • Then it was August 1967, and Mavis wasn’t working at the hospital anymore because she was eight months pregnant. Her stomach was swollen and hard, blue veined, tight. I could feel with my hand how the little beggar kicked and swam, did his half gainers and watery flips, like he was showing off for us inside his warm sac, like he believed h was nothing so much as a green frog cavorting for all the world in a horse tank.
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