Exploring the metaphors of Tom Rachman

Reading time: Less than 2 minutes

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about the metaphorical efforts of Tom Rachman.

The book The Imperfectionists earned a spot on my top 10 list of novels for 2010. It stunned me that a first-time novelist could pull off such a coup. Thus, I eagerly awaited his next effort. Was the first book merely a fluke, or was Tom Rachman a reliable writer?

The jury is in. The man can write. His latest novel, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers carries a terrible title (I find it impossible to remember and have to keep looking it up) but the book itself is interesting, engaging and peopled with terrific characters.

It’s also stuffed with beguiling metaphors. Here are just a few from his story about Tooly Zylberberg, a young woman who grows up around the world with a ragtag group of Americans.

In her two-star midtown hotel, she awoke in the dark — that under-the-soil blackness of a hotel room with the curtains drawn.

Cupping basin water to her mouth, she roused herself, parted the curtains, and discover and Orion’s belt of office lights.

Silence sat between them as if upon its haunches on the table.

Her warmth was evident as were the physical changes since their last encounter, her features assuming an increasingly manly configuration as she neared her mid-fifites, despite evident attempts to cling to earlier decades, with dyed strawberry-blond hair down to her waist, a Mickey Mouse halter top, and pendulous earring that stretched her lobes, like two hands waiting to drop their luggage.

Eventually, hours vanished there. Like a black hole, the Internet generated its own gravity neither light nor time escaping.

In the hotel lobby, a brass revolving door swallowed Tooly, spat her into the metropolis, her entrance punctuated by doormen whistling for cabs and the bap-bap-bap of horns. 

“How was school?” he asked. School was a country and home was a country, and the two sent each other letters but never met, Tooly the emissary shuttling between.

These travels had decimated her savings. She’d be eating empty sandwiches for a while now.

My favourite? The line about school and home being separate countries. Such an apt image!