The figurative language of Patrick Radden Keefe…

Reading time: About 3 minutes

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of images from Patrick Radden Keefe…

I view Patrick Radden Keefe (pictured above) as one of the best, most skillful non-fiction writers alive today. Not only is he a very fine writer, he’s also a thorough and determined researcher. I will briefly compare him to Malcolm Gladwell, whose work is lightweight and sloppy, in comparison.

Keefe’s book Say Nothing, presents a remarkable history of Northern Ireland that reads like a thriller. His equally gripping book Empire of Pain, deconstructs the terrible legacy of the Sackler family and their infliction of the drug Oxycodone on the world.

His latest work, Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks offers a way for non-book readers to experience his writing. A series of essays taken from the New Yorker, the book explores characters including a somewhat sketchy vintage wine merchant, a whistleblower who exposed money laundering at a Swiss bank, an international black market arms merchant, a death penalty attorney and Anthony Bourdain.

The stories are all fascinating and he tells them with his usual fine grasp of figurative language. Here are my favourite examples:

  • He talks about “dropping a subpoena” on people as if he were lobbing a grenade.
  • Astrid Holleeder has arresting eyes that are swimming pool blue, but that’s all I can reveal about her appearance, because she is in hiding an exile in her own city, which is Amsterdam.
  • She wore a red jumpsuit and flip-flops over white socks. The shackles around her ankles jingled like sleigh bells as she shuffled past. She had lost weight: her eyes were sunken, and her pale forearms looked like Popsicle sticks.
  • He was dressed in the manner of a Tarantino assassin: white shirt, skinny black tie, aggressively tailored black suit. He is soap-star handsome, with a dimpled chin, olive skin, and what one French newspaper described as “a commercial smile.” His sideburns tapered to a sliver.
  • In the country’s southeast highlands, far from any city of major roads, the Simandou Mountains stretch for seventy miles, looming over the jungle floor like a giant dinosaur spine.
  • He wore a brown suit and a red tie. Lowering himself into a wingback chair, he listed slightly to the right while we talked, in a posture of heavy-lies-the crown fatigue. At times, his elbow appeared to be propping up his whole body, like a tent pole.
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