The figurative language of Ling Ma…

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 from author Ling Ma…

Chinese American novelist Ling Ma (pictured above) won a 2018 Kirkus Prize for her first novel Severence. Her work was also listed as a New York Times Notable Book of 2018 and shortlisted for the 2019 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.

But what really drew me to the novel was that it was a pandemic tale, which seemed eerily appropriate in the age of Covid. Even more appealing? It was said to be what sounded like an incongruous blend of styles: partially post-apocalyptic horror, and partially office satire. (That said, I hadn’t counted on the sci-fi edge, which I found a bit off-putting as that genre doesn’t generally appeal to me.)

Still, Ling Ma has a terrific eye and ear for figurative language. Here are my favourite examples:

  • Our bodies curled inward, away from each other, dry leaves at the end of summer.
  • The sound of my loud, nervous laugh, like gargling gravel, was a social liability.
  • To cool down, I’d skim through the air-conditioned lobby of a hotel or museum or department store, like a swimmer taking a quick, splashy lap, slipping past doormen, salesgirls, concierges, docents, security guards before bursting back outside.
  • The carpeting was so plush and springy that I felt as if I were on another planet, one with weaker gravitational pull.
  • I burst out crying. The sobs heaved out almost euphorically, like air bubbles in seltzer water, that first crisp sip, as I gripped the sides of the sink, doubling over.
  • They were performing their Americanness, perfecting it to a gleaming hard veneer to shield over their Chinese inner selves.
  • You couldn’t even see the water beneath all the garbage, but standing on the steps, you could hear it, like an enormous animal lapping thirstily.