Inundated with Similes

Karen Russell makes excessive use of similes throughout her book Swamplandia!, at least in the first half I completed. Some are clever or insightful, such as “We were watching the small TV above her [hospital] bed politely, as if the TV were a foreign dignitary giving an unintelligible lecture…” (on page 106 in the Vintage Contemporaries edition).

These types of comparisons would be more effective if used sparingly, but from the very beginning, Russell leans heavily on this figure of speech.

A few examples – “like a caterer with a tray of bitter hors d’oeuvres” (pg. 83); “it was like a sword I’d made, glinting and strong” (pg. 49); “like an anhinga swallowing a fish” (pg. 35); “couples curled their pale legs together like eels” (pg. 4); “[l]ike black silk, the water bunched and wrinkled” (pg. 5).

It could be argued she is using this mechanism to develop the voice for Ana, her main character, as though the girl is trying to fit reality into some order or previous experiences … expect she uses the same simile patterns when she unceremoniously switches to third person for Kiwi’s chapters.

The style slows and often garbles the narrative for me, and it seems I could have enjoyed Swamplandia! … at the outset, it reminded me of Geek Love, Katherine Dunn’s masterpiece (as I remember it), which shined brightly when I was going through my John Irving phase.

But of course, as with most contemporary fiction, there are plenty of other opinions to counter my negativity.


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