The figurative language of Zoe Whittall

Reading time: About 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of images from Canadian writer Zoe Whittall…

Canadian poet, novelist and TV writer Zoe Whittall understands how to create an interesting and compelling plot.

Her 2016 novel The Best Kind of People tells the story of a teacher and husband/father who has been arrested for sexual impropriety at a prestigious prep school. His wife, son, and daughter all struggle mightily with this turn of events as he’d never given any hint of being someone who might behave in this way. How do they defend someone they love while wrestling with the possibility of his guilt?

While I found the plot gripping, I also thought it was unevenly written, and a bit too much like a “movie of the week.” That said, Zoe Whittall sure uses figurative language with aplomb. Here are my favourite examples:

  • He had skin like punctured and torn fabric.
  • George’s chest was heaving, his sweater vest stuck with chunks of glass. It looked as though the man had fallen during a game of Limbo.
  • Sadie picked at the scab on her knee that had dried in the shape of Florida. A chunk of Key West broke free under her nail.
  • Red and blue flashed through the open windows, a light show for the symphony of cicadas.
  • Joan noted the scar on his left cheekbone, spreading out like a tree limb towards his ear.
  • The walls were painted various shade of white and beige, the carpets a thick grey or ivory, the pale colour of dust and absence.
  • She made the water even hotter, aiming it at her neck, and hung her head like a broken tree limb.
  • Outside, the leaves appeared to have reddened overnight, going mad alongside her.
  • George’s [substitute teacher] replacement arrived, a dotty-looking bald man in a bad brown suit. He wrote Taylor in serial-killer script on the [classroom] blackboard and moved the portable table with the laptop on it to the side of the room with a flourish, as though pushing aside the idea of interactive technology.
  • He had gone from “most promising” to “over the hill” without stopping on success mountain.
  • Kevin gulped the first glass down, shocked that he had somehow saved himself. By his second glass he felt the balm of his arrogance returning, like a sly old lover slipping him a hotel key card.
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