The figurative language of Kristen Arnett

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of similes and metaphors from Kristen Arnett…

When I heard that the main character in a first novel by Kristen Arnett (pictured above) was a taxidermist, my spidey senses tingled. Who bases a novel on taxidermy, I wondered?

But the book had received stellar reviews from places like NPR and the New York Times so I borrowed a copy from the library (before the pandemic) and read it while on vacation (also before the pandemic).

The story of a family of taxidermists, Mostly Dead Things explores the fallout from the death-by-suicide of the father. But it’s not an exceptionally dark tale. Humour (albeit black) abounds, and Kristen Arnett has eyes and ears that are finely tuned for figurative language. Here are my favourite examples:

  • They both had the same strong jaw and sallow skin, a long, narrow nose framed by deep grooves that almost resembled parentheses.
  • The bags under her eyes were deep-set and very dark, like someone had pressed their thumbs into her flesh.
  • Her hands were birds; one fluttered up into her neckline to fiddle with a button, while the other tugged at an earring.
  • When he smiled, his teeth were dark, nearly wooden in his mouth. Already his hairline was receding, crawling toward the rear of his skull, as if escaping from the hard look in his eyes.
  • His self-esteem seemed like a fragile thing; a hollowed-out bird egg.
  • She climbed onto the back of a Sea-Doo, holding tight to a boy’s waist. She yelled as he accelerated, the sound like a blender taking in a root vegetable.