A simile is like a metaphor


Raymond Chandler and some kind of animal, possibly an elephant, I’m no expert.

I finished the Raymond Chandler short story collection Spanish Blood, which I inherited from my late pal Lawrie. Or else I borrowed it from him and hadn’t returned it yet when he died, I forget which. The book is old and has mainly turned to vanilla dust. But still readable — highly readable. Every one of the stories might make a good movie.

While Pearls are a Nuisance takes a screwball comedy approach to the pulp detective racket, Trouble is my Business is playful but still just about serious. Still, it has fun with the idea of a detective who solves the case but still gets beaten up or outsmarted by just about everyone he meets, while putting away enough Scotch to pickle a beluga.

Chandler is smart enough to keep his brilliant similes in check just enough (Mark Gattis, take note!) — and he mixes things up with metaphors and sort of indefinable but hilarious word-images like “a pale thin clerk with one of those mustaches that get stuck under your fingernail.” It also struck me that his similes are so grotesque, one could swap them around randomly and they’d still sort of work. Here are a few where the subject and object have been shuffled — see if you can rearrange them into the original intended sequence ~

Her cheeks were as soft as

a rolled umbrella.

She was sitting behind a black glass desk that looked like


She was smoking a cigarette in a black holder that was not quite as long as

a basket ball.

His face, what I could see of it, looked about the size of

Napoleon’s tomb.

His humming sounded like

an old lady with too many parcels.

It rose as softly as

a sick baby.

She wore a small cockeyed hat that hung on her ear like

a cat in a strange house.

I moved around slowly, like

an amputated leg.

A bruise on the back of my head and another on my jaw, neither of them larger than

the mercury in a thermometer.

He had an idea and he was holding it like

a Yakima apple.

Throwing his voice over his shoulder as if it were

a cigar-store Indian.

We went in so close together we must have looked like

a butterfly.

A huge oval mirror with a rounded surface that made me look like

a cow being sick.

He was as wooden-faced as

a three-decker sandwich.

A shiny black bug […] wobbled as it crawled, like

a pygmy with water on the brain.

I felt bad. I felt like

a coil of rope.

Or, for maximum hilarity, just read all of the set-ups and sub in “an amputated leg.” Works every time!



15 Responses to “A simile is like a metaphor”

  1. My favorite Chandlerism:

    “La Jolla is a place wehre old people go

    to live with their parents.”

  2. However you read them, there are some beauties here. I’m just reading Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane, which is, to say the least, rich in metaphor — one of many, many examples: He had a pair of hands on him the size of Belfast sinks.

  3. Randy Cook Says:

    “The star was a bad-tempered brunette with contemptuous eyes and a couple of bad close-ups that showed her pushing forty-five backwards almost hard enough to break a wrist.”

  4. Chandler’s alcoholism, as witnessed by Wilder, led directly to The Lost Weekend.

    Belfast sinks is good. I don’t remember anything specially capacious about that city’s sinks, but it SOUNDS great!

  5. I got nothin’. But I enjoyed the post. listening to a lot of old radio detective shows while I work, I’m tempted to blame Chandler for his corrupting poetic influence. But I won’t. They were making fun of tough guy talk while it was still in it’s heyday.

  6. Always remember Jack Webb as some radio PI saying “and she had a voice like warm stew…”

  7. She had a voice like an amputated leg. Hey, it does work!

  8. Every time! “Throwing his voice over his shoulder as if it were an amputated leg.”

  9. She was smoking a cigarette in a black holder that was not quite as long as an amputated leg.

  10. “She wore a small cockeyed hat that hung on her ear like an amputated leg.”

  11. This is moving into Rigby Reardon territory;

    “I hadn’t seen a body put together like that since I’d solved the case of the Murdered Girl with the Big Tits.”

    Have you read Ethan Coen’s short story collection, The Gates of Eden? There are some delicious Chandleresque stories in there.

  12. I remember the radio play about the classical composer who solves crimes, yeah… Some good “Oh, a wise guy, eh?” type cops.

  13. Jack Webb’s detectives are particularly good example of getting it wrong. He thinks he’s being funny with the poetics, but he’s just ridiculous. But then, Webb as a detective is ridiculous.

    Webb starred on several detective shows on radio, including PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE, which co-starred Raymond Burr. From Wikipedia: ‘Pat Novak was notable for writing that imitated, almost to parody, the hard-boiled style of such writers as Raymond Chandler, with lines such as: “She drifted into the room like 98 pounds of warm smoke. Her voice was hot and sticky–like a furnace full of marshmallows.” ‘ Almost to parody?

    It’s not hard to imagine this narration helping to steer Webb’s right turn to the prosaic, “just the facts” DRAGNET. Wikipedia also states “Webb was approached to play the role of Vernon Wormer, the dean of Faber College, in National Lampoon’s Animal House, but he turned it down as crazy.”

  14. […] The featured image came from this cleverly-written blog post! […]

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