The figurative language of Raven Leilani

Reading time: About 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 Raven Leilani…

A 2020 debut novel by writer Raven Leilani, Luster, received significant attention at its publishing. It earned praise in the New York Times, Elle, the HuffPost, and BuzzFeed News. It also won the 2020 Kirkus Prize for Fiction, the 2020 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the 2020 John Leonard Prize (which is one of the National Book Critics Circle Awards).

While I didn’t feel as positively about the plot of the book, I can say that the 31-year-old writer has significant talent and a strong ear for figurative language. Here are my favourite examples:

  • As we enter the gates, I feel the high-fructose sun of the park like an insult.
  • By the time I push my way onto the train, the sun is nuking all the garbage in Manhattan.
  • She lingers, presses her finer against the seam. But from here she is all muscle memory, a moving artillery in a hazmat suit, the bone cutters and chisels … moving in and out of her hands.
  • I clean the bathroom and take a picture of the tongue of hair I pull from the drain and at night I render these pictures, hoping to see myself.
  • I pat her awkwardly on the shoulder, terrified that a too-enthusiastic reciprocation will alert her to her error, like the way a white person might raise a jungle cat from birth and be pals for a time until the cat turns five and realizes it is, in fact, a carnivore.
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