The figurative language of Steven Rowley

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about similes from the American author Steven Rowley…

I was walking by a remainder table in my favourite bookstore when the title of a book grabbed me by the eyeballs and gave me a good shake.

Titled The Editor and written by Steven Rowley, the cover of the book featured a drawing of someone who was clearly Jackie Kennedy Onnasis. “What’s up, here?” I wondered.

What’s up is an utterly delightful novel — set in the early 1990s — about a friendship between a first-time novelist and his editor, Jackie O. In addition to being able to dream up a captivating plot, Rowley also has a terrific ear for figurative language, especially simile. Here are my favourite examples from the book:

  • Miraculously, I get an elevator to myself for four floors, leaving just enough time for me to self-defibrillate before the doors reopen and three chatty coworkers enter the elevator and join me for the rest of the ride to the lobby.
  • The sharp February air enters my lungs and jolts like a shot of ice-cold vodka.
  •  I remember how loved I felt in that singular moment, puppy lashings covering my salty face, both rough and soft like the finest-grained sandpaper from my father’s workshop…
  • The drive is lined with trees and the air is filled with a symphony of chirping insects that sounds like both a concerto and a warning.
  • “Oh my God. You’re famous.” “Well, that’s a word on a sliding scale.”
  • Silence felt like a favorite sweater; it wrapped us in just enough comfort to get us home.
  • I’m doing my best to avoid her until I can deliver, sending just enough notes through Mark to let her know I’m working — like I’m a spy checking in with my handlers while stationed out in the cold.
  • The street stretches like taffy; it actually feels like it gets longer, as if we’re in some carnival funhouse.
  • The trees are bare, rigid skeletons in formation in front of a soft blue sky.
  • The other [person] is hunched like a question mark, like he’s spent a lifetime in the types of folding seats that populate playhouse rows.
  • ….The room is too loud (how can sixty people make the noise of a jet engine picking up speed down a runway?)
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