The figurative language of Lee Israel….

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 metaphors from Lee Israel….

The movie about literary forger Lee Israel grabbed my attention as soon as I heard the plot. It also didn’t hurt that the star of Can You Ever Forgive Me was actress Melissa McCarthy (pictured above), whose work I have usually enjoyed. Nevertheless, the movie lasted such a short time in my city (less than two weeks, as I recall), I managed to miss it.

Then, about a month ago, while I was on a 14-hour plane ride, I discovered I could watch Can You Ever Forgive Me midair, from the discomfort of my plane seat. Hallelujah! The movie exceeded my (high) expectations and I immediately bought the book for my Kindle.

The movie and book (both have the same name) tell the autobiographical tale of writer Lee Israel (1939-2014) who found herself impoverished in New York in the early 1990s. To make money, she began forging an estimated 400 letters by deceased celebrities such as Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward. Later, she began stealing actual letters and autographed papers of famous people from libraries and archives, replacing them with forged copies she had made.

The story is both funny and sad and flawlessly captured by McCarthy’s pitch-perfect voice. The book is even more engaging than the move, although it is marred in the Kindle format. (Many chapters begin with sample “fake” letters that Israel wrote and sold but the size cannot be enlarged and they are too small to read.)

In the memoir, Israel’s skill with figurative language is gleefully apparent. Here are my favourite examples:

  • I had no ideas where my critters were coming from. For days, I thought there was just one busy little fly; then I saw them all in a black bunch, line up across two or three slats of my cheap and dusty venetians — like the crows in Hitchcock.
  • We were finishing our dinner. I had a second Rémy served in a goblet that could have held a dozen yellow roses.
  • I’ve spent my life in a state of high anxiety, waiting for the Cossacks. I am always worried. When one cause of worry exists my skull it is replaced immediately by another. They meet shoulder to shoulder, one entering, the other exiting the cave leading to my tympanic membrane.
  • But the appearance of the FBI agents made a difference. They were incarnational. Pushed my nagging warts into metastasizing tumors, turned my minor-key motif into a symphonic roar.