The figurative language of Stephanie Danler

Reading time: Less than 2 minutes

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 Stephanie Danler…

Waitress and first-time author Stephanie Danler (pictured above) earned a jaw-dropping six-figure deal for her first novel, Sweetbitter. As a dedicated reader and a foodie, I knew this was a book I had to read.

I wasn’t impressed with the plot which struck me as predictable and dull. (Young waitress at a high-end New York restaurant falls in love with a bartender. It ends badly.) But, wow, can this woman write. She also holds a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from New York’s New School and her ability with figurative language leaves me gobsmacked. Here are my favourite examples.

  • The sky was like the paintings. No, the paintings were trying to represent this sunset. The sky was aflame and throwing sparks, the orange clouds rimmed with purple like ash.
  • Simone maintained power by centrifugal force. When she moved, the restaurant was pulled as if by a tailwind She led the servers by her ability to shift their focus—her own focus was a spotlight. Service unfolded in her parentheses.
  • The kitchen was a riot of misshapen, ugly tomatoes. They smelled like the green insides of plants, like sap, like dirt.
  • I had never thought of a tomato as a fruit—the ones I had own were mostly white in the center and rock hard. But this was so luscious, so tart I thought it victorious. So—some tomatoes tasted like water, and some tasted like summer lightning.
  • The joints in my spine softened, like butter going to room temperature.
  • I took a second oyster in my hand, inspected it. The shell was sharp, sculptural, a container naturally molded to its contents, like skin. The oyster flinched.
  • He handed me the beer. It was nearly black, persuasive as chocolate, weighty. The finish was cream.
  • I had seen the sun come up. Two mornings in a row actually, I had watched in real time as the night weakened and the authoritative blue of morning, flat as a sheet, hung itself in the east.
  • When I caught her eyes they were like rain-washed windows I couldn’t see inside.
  • When the truffles arrived the paintings leaned off the walls toward them. They were the grand trumpets of winter, heralding excess against the poverty of the landscape.
  • His eyes shimmered like water about to boil.
  • Wasn’t it spring? Hadn’t the trees shaken out their greens to applause?
  • The lilacs smelled like brevity. They knew how to arrive, and how to exit.

I trust that anyone who understands how to write like this will eventually figure out how to plot.

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