The figurative language of Vicki Laveau-Harvie

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 from Vicki Laveau-Havie….

Family trauma doesn’t sound like a happy theme for a memoir but in the hands of Vicki Laveau-Harvie, the subject becomes raw material for thoughtful and finely written book.

Exploring the life and death of her narcissistic  mother (although Laveau-Harvie eschews any mental health diagnosis), the author paints a vivid picture of what it was like to grow up in such a dysfunctional family. In fact, beginning with the title, you might say The Erratics offers a literary perspective on dysfunction.

Erratics, for example, are rock fragments transported by glaciers. And, of course, they are also  people who behave in the random and unpredictable way that Laveau-Harvie’s mother did.

Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s keen eye and ear for figurative language — simile and personification, in particular — are evident throughout the book. Here are my favourite examples:

  • Your lungs will freeze as Christmas lights tracing the outlines of white frame houses wink cheerfully through air so clear and hard it shatters.
  • When winter comes, summer is the memory that keeps people going, the remembrance of the long slanting dusk, peonies massed along the path, blossoms as big as balloons, crimson satin petals deepening to the black of dried blood in the waning light, deer on the lawns, stock-still.
  • The leaves of the trembling aspens can shake all day like gold coins in the air as clear as cider, but this is not a welcoming place.
  • On this day a solid ribbon of eighteen-wheelers is gunning it full throttle for Great Falls, Montana, or Boise, Idaho, making the most of the open roads and hardly believing their luck, just a drift of powder across the road when you gear up, like icing sugar from a doughnut.
  • I blame the landscape, out there pining like a suitorless spinster for the snow, for the blinding swathe of white that will mask its disgrace and wrap it in beauty until the spring when, against all odds, bountiful things will pierce the earth, grow and flower.
  • I feel transparent, like a wonton wrapper in a steamer basket.
  • The walls are bile-green and the wrought iron carriage-lamp light fittings dispense a yellowish clarity that gives up and dies halfway across the carpet.
  • The slender tree trunks stand dark and mournful, the branches swaying like the arms of the bereaved on hearing the news.
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