Sarah Manguso’s figurative language

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 by Sarah Manguso…

I always appreciate a good memoir and ones related to personal health often interest me in particular. For example, I am especially fond of Tova Bailey’s book The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.  (While an illness kept her bedridden, Bailey watched a wild snail that took up residence on her nightstand.) The book remains on my lifetime top 10 list, even eight years after reading.

Perhaps this explains why my hope was so high when I read Sarah Manguso’s The Two Kinds of Decay. As a Harvard undergraduate in 1995, Manguso contracted a neurological disease called chronic idiopathic demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy or CDIF.

Sadly, I thought her book was hard to warm to. I think the issue was her writing style, which I found overly mannered and acutely self-conscious. Nevertheless Sarah Manguso has a fine ear for figurative language. Here are my favourite examples: 

  • The nerve damage associated with my disease is supposed to begin at the toes and move upward, as if you’re sinking in invisible, numbing quicksand.
  • A cancer patient on the ward, a girl a year or two older than I was, had a catheter just like mine, except tiny. Like the thickness of a piece of angel hair pasta instead of the thickness of two drinking straws with big clamps at the ends.
  • He smiled the way we do when we talk about naughty affairs or petty crimes that people get away with.
  • The other…nurses moved my body around, unwrapped me from my cocoon of heated blankets, and twisted the tubes around like secretaries playing with telephone cords.
  • I felt no antipathy, just a certainty that his pity would accrue to me, and would grow in me like the sea of antibodies with which I was already invisibly killing myself.
  • He was like a Black Panther of pharmacology. By any means necessary. I loved him immediately.
  • I wrote, Can’t catch my breath all morning because of a wildness in my body that is like birds flying me toward his body.
  • I remember driving home in the wrecked sedan but it had grown to the size of a Viking ship, and all other traffic had disappeared, and the roads had disappeared, and there was only me in my broken ship, floating home.
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