The figurative language of Louis Bayard…

Reading time: About 2 minutes

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of metaphors from Louis Bayard…

Writer Louis Bayard seems to have a keen interest in the love lives of American presidents. His 2019 book, Courting Mr. Lincoln, took a novelist’s interest in the relationship between Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln.

And his more recent novel, Jackie & Me explores the relationship between JFK and his wife Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

Once again, I was struck by Bayard’s remarkably keen eye and ear for figurative language. Here are my favourite examples:

  • These [skills] included French, horse-riding and the echolocation of husbands.
  • Photographs from his youth show a disquieting cross between Clark Gable and Hollywood-style bandit, with eyes of Lake Louise blue and a look of disreputable masculinity that offsets that dandyish accents of silk handkerchief (blossoming just so from the pocket of his hunting jacket) and brilliantined black hair (parted down the middle with Euclidean precision.)
  • Auchincloss chose to see that [decision] as accommodation and waited out the final months of Jackie’s senior year the way one waits for a balloon to give up its last reserves of air.
  • She sat alone on a couch in the ladies’ room, smoking Raleighs, while the other girls clipped and curled themselves like terriers.
  • Auchincloss had yet to raise her voice, but the barometric pressure of the dining room was mounting all the same.
  • The alcohol rushed through her in a fresh tide, and the air around her seemed to flicker like hornets.
  • I must have checked my watch four or five times before Mrs. Gladstone Williams, smiling like a Persian cat, strolled back to the front of the room.
  • A smallish but clear soprano, reaching for the melody line and holding on, as if it were a pony’s mane.
  • The lone woman in the city newsroom, she sat hunched over an Olivetti manual, stabbing at each key as if to drive it back to whatever fen it had bubbled up from.
  • The air was tight and sultry, and Jackie was smoking like a condemned killer – four Newports in quick succession, each one jabbed like a shiv into the eye of the ashtray.
  • I told her then that, to appreciate the Kennedys as I did, you would have had to be an impoverished Wasp from Pittsburgh with a widowed mother fluttering like a moth against her shrinking circumstances.
  • To make sense of her three days and two nights with the Kennedys, she had to come at them like Margaret Mead in a pith helmet.
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