The figurative language of Megan Abbott

Reading time: Just over 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 Megan Abbott.

I seldom read mysteries or thrillers because I’m more interested in figurative language than plot. But when I find a writer who can deliver both metaphor and machination, it is cause to celebrate. Megan Abbott (pictured above) is such a writer.

Abbott has won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for outstanding fiction. And Time Magazine named her one of the “23 Authors That We Admire” in 2011. I think I stumbled across her 2018 book Give Me Your Hand, because of a recommendation from the New York Times Book Review podcast.

While the plot was engaging enough, what really impressed me was her skill with simile and metaphor. Not everyone who’s capable of plotting has Abbott’s fine eyes and ears.

Here are my favourite examples:

  • No matter the temperature, she never had more than a fine arc of beads at her hairline, like a halo.
  • Even though we hadn’t met, she waved at me too, like a pageant queen making a grand exit, greeting all her admirers.
  • I walked over to get a better look at the [white] car. Inside was white too, like the smooth curves of a giant molar. And the gold trimmings like molar crowns.
  • And then I couldn’t believe it, but I started crying. Shauna and Sarina put their arms around me sloppily, patting me like a punched dog.
  • Her focus always seemed elsewhere, head down, lost in her own thoughts, a shadow falling between her eyes like a warning.
  • All my papers, once stacked neatly on the bedside table, are scattered across the floor binder clips like little bats, nesting.
  • When she finished, slapping her laptop shut, a cluster of…graduate students in versions of her oversize glasses and dustless black attire, followed her from the lecture hall, their dark bodies moving like a snake’s winding tail.
  • The man, who must have been her granddad, hair white as frosting and face tanned and serious, was sobbing, while Diane stood rigidly, arms at her side.
  • I stare dumbly at him, hoping he can’t see the hangover slick on me, regret so thick it’s like a film on my skin and impossible to hide.
  • She slides it over her water-colored dress, the color of an expensive oyster, like a lick of mercury.
  • Her head turned to the side; she glanced at me, showing me only the white of her left eye, gleaming like a pearl.
  • I nearly flinch at the xylophone of bones on her spine.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Aug. 9/18.

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