I never really noticed the simile until relatively recently. I mean, I knew it existed. I knew good authors used them. I knew bad authors used them. I knew I loved to use them. And then I read The Road and ODed on them.
Apologies to people who loved that book, but finishing it was an exercise in stubbornness on my part. Every single paragraph had at least one tortured simile and soon I progressed from marveling at the unending stream of them to rolling my eyes as each new one appeared (rolling eyes doesn’t improve reading speed, just so you know) to grinding my teeth with every new “like” that appeared. The simile that nearly caused me to fling the book across the room was particularly gratuitous and tortured: “By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp” (28).
That’s the last sentence of one paragraph. The next paragraph starts, “People sitting on the sidewalk in the dawn half immolate and smoking in their clothes. Like failed sectarian suicides” (28).
Since then, I’ve developed a theory about similes. My theory is that I love them in extremely small doses and from extremely good writers who know when not to use them. My theory is that the books that I really like have very few of them. My theory is that they are too-easy crutches for writers who have authorial inferiority complexes. Or superiority complexes. Either way. My theory is that I used too many of them when I was first trying to write “well.”
I just finished The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and I just started re-reading Empire Falls by Richard Russo, and both are blessedly light on similes. Thank goodness.
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Random House, 2006. [Google Book preview]