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Metaphor, simile, details-- these are not just tools for the poet. The best journalists, essayists, novelists-- know how avoid clichés (like the plague...ha!) and use sharp details to create vivid pictures. I love coming across these beauties when I read. Here are some favorites: 

•    From an essay in Salon by the writer, Abby Frucht, about her surgery: “I find hospitals stimulating. I like the funk of anesthesia, and I’m amused by the bright blue nun, like on the wine bottle label, who stops by at pre-op to pray.” [Funk. That’s the perfect word here. And the imagery of the blue nun and the wine bottle—also reminds us of grogginess.]

•    From Lorrie Moore’s story collection Birds of America: “Albert leads them all into the dining room and everyone drifts around the large teak table, studying the busily constructed salads at each place setting—salads, which, with their knobs of cheese, jutting chives, and little folios of frisee, resemble small Easter hats. ‘Do we wear these or eat them?’ asks Jack. In his mouth is a piece of gray chewing gum like a rat’s brain.

•    From the New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane: “This movie has the shakes…anyone who gets up close and personal with Cloverfield will feel like a peppercorn in a grinder.”

•    From Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: “My only grudge against nature was that I could not turn my Lolita inside out and apply voracious lips to her young matrix, her unknown heart, her nacreous liver, the sea-grapes of her lungs, her comely twin kidneys.”

•    From Carol Shields’ The Stone Diaries: “There lies my mother, Mercy Stone Goodwill, panting on the kitchen couch with its cheap, neat floral cover; she’s on her side, as though someone has toppled her over, her large soft trunky knees drawn up, and her woman’s parts exposed. Like seashells or a kind of squashed fruit.” [Woman's parts! Squashed fruit!]

•    From Jayne Anne Phillips’ Machine Dreams: “It’s true the body turns empty as the shell of an insect, or like something inflatable but flattened. You don’t know that until you’re present at a death. And if it’s someone whose presence is so know to you, so specific—you feel their movement, a lifting—you recognize them in what moves. Not ghostly, but amazing, too much to understand. That winter, my breath caught each time I heard a sigh of heat from the register in the hall.”

•    From John Updike’s Rabbit is Rich:  “He is on his third wife; this is Cindy, a plump brown-backed honey still smelling of high school, though they have two little ones, a boy and a girl, ages five and three. Her hair is cut short and lies wet in one direction, as if surfacing from a dive, and when she smiles her teeth look unnaturally even and white in her tan face, with pink spots of peeling on the roundest part of her cheeks…”

•    From Louise Erdrich’s story, “The Reptile Garden”: “She was wearing a black dress. When she swiveled in her chair and smiled at me, I saw that here eyes were black, too, and her lips very red. Her skin was pallid, shiny, as though she had a fever. Her blond hair, maybe dyed, was greasy and dull. She was about my age. Her teeth had thin spaces between them, which made her look frightening, predatory, like an animal.”

•    From Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool: “In between sales she read scripture on her stool at the cash register, surrounded by Disney souvenirs. Disney World was Mrs. Harold’s favorite place, and every year in February she dragged her husband to Orlando and rode every ride in the Magic Kingdom, where everything was clean and sunny and the lines moved. There was probably dirty, smelly, greasy machinery somewhere that ran the whole Kingdom, but the Disney people knew enough to keep it out of sight. Underground, probably. There was supposed to be a tour you could take where they’d show you how everything ran, but it was the one thing in Disney World Mrs. Harold wasn’t interest in. It’d spoil the magic, was the way she looked at it. She wouldn’t let Harold go see it either for fear he’d explain everything to her, which would be even worse…” [This is an excellent example of Russo’s talent for bringing alive secondary characters through vivid details.]

•    From Brock Clarke’s novel An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England: “There were no trees anywhere—it was as though Camelot had been nuked or had been the brainchild of the logging industry maybe—and each house was exactly the same except that some had powder blue vinyl siding and others had desert tan.  There were elaborate wooden playgrounds in the backyards and mini-satellite dishes on every roof, and each driveway was a smooth carpet of blacktop and there wasn’t a sidewalk crack to trip over because there were o sidewalks, and each house had a garage that was so oversized it could have been its own house.”

•    From Josephine Humphrey’s novel Rich in Love about Mount Pleasant, SC: “Out in the developments, some of the new roads curved back upon themselves, and I sometimes lost my sense of direction trying to get somewhere; or I might be riding along and all of a sudden the smooth asphalt turns to soft dirt and I’m in the country, with wooden houses balanced on concrete blocks, and the tragic crowing of roosters, and the black people on porches, innocent as natives. It was as if new places had been slapped down over the old ones, but some of the old was still showing through. I tried not to lose myself in those pockets. It could sometimes be too much for me, a house at the edge of a field, the rim of pines, the smoke. It wrenched my heart. There was too much emotion for me in the country.”