Top Annie Proulx Similes and Metaphors 

Photo by Quentin Jones


One of the greatest contemporary authors of American literature once described a character’s storytelling as being able to “make you smell the smoke from an unlit fire.”  After having reread Annie Proulx’s oeuvre, I attribute this compliment to the Pulitzer Prize winning fiction writer herself.  Here is a list of Proulx’s top similes and metaphors, compiled from four volumes of short stories and five novels (in chronological order.  If I’ve missed some of your favorites, I’d love to hear from you.) Enjoy!

From Heart Songs and Other Stories (1988)

1. “Stong’s eyes shone like those of a greedy barn cat who has learned to fry mice in butter.” from ‘On the Antler’

2. “Earl was paying Santee three hundred dollars a week and he hadn’t shot a single bird.  ‘How’s about this?’ said Santee, feeling more and more like a cheating old whore every time they went [hunting].” from ‘The Unclouded Day’

3. “Santee had not heard shooting birds was that hard, but he knew Earl was no good; he had the reflexes of a snowman.” from ‘The Unclouded Day’

Painting by Cheri Wollenberg

4. “‘She’s Archie Noury’s wife.  Rose Noury.  Left Archie, come to live with Warren.  For how long, who knows?  What I call leaving the frying pan for the fire.’” from ‘A Country Killing’

5. “Year after year rich people moved into the mountains and built glass houses at high elevations; at sunset when the valleys were smothered in leathery shadow, the heliodor mansions flashed like an armada signaling for the attack.” from ‘Negatives’

From Postcards (1992)

6. “The battery was old, and the Coach was a bitch to start on a cold morning, about as simple as getting port wine out of a cow’s left hind teat.”

7. “Horsley and the students were the academic color of wet rice.”

8. “She had a voice like a fly in a Coke bottle. ‘I don’t think he’ll work out.  He’s half crippled up.  Listen at how he coughs.  He’ll be down sick most of the time.  If he don’t take off he’ll make trouble.’”

From The Shipping News (1993)

9. “A clangor filled the motel and set off wall pounding until the motel vibrated.  The clerk rubbed his eyes like a television actor seeing a miracle.”

10. “The editorial page played streams of invective across the provincial political scene like a fire hose.  Harangues, pitted with epithets. ‘Gammy Bird’ was a hard bite.  Looked life right in its shifty, bloodshot eye.  A tough little paper.”

11. “ ‘She started it!’ shouted Bunny.  Scowling like Beethoven.”

12. “ ‘Christ no!  Rather have me arms cut off at the shoulder.  I hates messing with little squiddy words, reading and writing and that.  Like scuffing through dead flies.’”

From Accordion Crimes (1996)

13. “It wasn’t jazz, that swing, nothing but noise, the dancers stupid with their popping eyes and snapping fingers, jerking their arms and leaping about like fleas on griddles.”

14. “But already the red idea was simmering that such intoxicating sweetness of life couldn’t last…Yes, his bones were marinating in that bowl of wine, but how long would it be before he was impaled on the spit again and roasting over the flames?”

15. “Hadn’t people died getting the voting and civil rights laws?  And since then, what?  Seemed like some had got money and power, but they’d left the others behind, curling like shrimps in the smoking fry pans of cities where bodies of children were discovered in trash compactors, blood dripped through ceilings onto somebody’s plate of dinner, babies got shot in cross fire, and the names of cities meant something deep bad, unfixable, and wrong.”

16. “Still, they bought the wine and drove into the mountains and there, in a meadow blazing with Indian paintbrush, she ran from him half clothed and laughing like an advertisement for sanitary napkins.”

From Close Range (1999)

17. “The wild country – indigo jags of mountain, grassy plain everlasting, tumbled stones like fallen cities, the flaring roll of sky – provokes a spiritual shudder.  It is like a deep note that cannot be heard but is felt, it is like a claw in the gut.” from ‘People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water’

18. “ ‘Are you like an enchanted thing?  A damn story where some girl lets a warty old toad sleep in her shoe and in the mornin the toad’s a good-lookin dude makin omelettes?’” from ‘The Bunchgrass Edge of the World’

19. “The house trailer I rented was old.  It was more of a camper you’d tow behind a car, so small you couldn’t cuss the cat without getting fur in your mouth.” from ‘A Lonely Coast’

From That Old Ace In The Hole (2002)

20. “He had a sharp Aztec nose, fluffy black hair and black eyes like those in a taxidermist’s drawer.”

21. “ ‘You get your water at Twospot?  Little pond a water there?’


‘That’s squitter water.  It’ll make you want a die, make you think your guts is bein pulled out a your asshole with your mama’s crochet hook, but you won’t die and most gets better and some even drinks that squitter water again and has no ill effects.  I done it.’”

22. “When his uncle came back he was carrying a Bible and Bob felt his heart sink.  No doubt the vegetarian diet had stirred some dormant religious volcano in Uncle Tam and the lava would start to flow in a minute.”

 From Bad Dirt (2004)

23. “‘Them rich pricks are lower than a snake’s ass in a wagon track,’ he said to his mother.” from ‘What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?’

24. “His feeling for the ranch was the strongest emotion that had ever moved him, a strangling love tattooed on his heart.  It was his.  It was as if he had drunk from some magic goblet brimming with the elixir of ownership.” from ‘What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?’

25. “Too often she had been called on to measure damp beards, whiskers clotted with hardened egg yolk, residues of mustard, individual crumbs clinging to hairs like boys swinging on ropes above a swimming hole.” from ‘The Contest’

From Fine Just the Way It Is (2008)

26. “ ‘And they had a ladies’ auxiliary, which my mother got into; they called it ‘The Ladies,’ like it was a restroom or something.’” from ‘Family Man’

27. “…Hell’s coming population increase would demand much more than providing quarters for tobacco lobbyists and corporate executives…since nearly all humans were inevitably damned, a simple inversion would do, much like turning a length of intestine inside out and using it as a sausage casing.  The earth itself, with no labor on his part, would become Hell Plus.” from ‘I’ve Always Loved This Place’

28. “ ‘I’d sure tell her where to set her empties, but you can’t tell nobody like that nothin,’ he said to Bonita.  ‘She is too ignorant.  It would just be water off a duck’s ass.’” from ‘Tits-Up In a Ditch’

From Barkskins (2016)

29. “ ‘Yes.  And now that we’ve got the spleenishness out of the way shall we try for civility as we must travel in each other’s pockets for the next six weeks?’  ‘That would please me inordinately.  And I am glad to see you.’  They were like two terriers sniffing and circling.”

30. “Smart and wily, a fluent and persuasive talker, he moved people to his advantage as a cook moves gobbets of meat around in the hot pan.”

31. “…Timber Culture Act, Timber Cutting Act, Timber and Stone Act, all supposedly aimed at conservation but all written with more loopholes than a page of Spenserian calligraphy.”

2016, Amaya Engleking



  1. summerstartstoshine · October 13, 2016

    I’ve not heard of this writer, but the quotes are brilliant! I’ll have to find more of what she has written. Interesting post Amaya 😊

    • Gospel Isosceles · October 13, 2016

      Oh oops. I didn’t directly reply to you, but please see the below comment. Thanks again:)

  2. Gospel Isosceles · October 13, 2016

    Proulx is clearly fantastic, probably best known for her novel ‘The Shipping News’ and ‘Brokeback Mountain’, a short story in the volume ‘Close Range.’ To tell you the truth this may be only the first part of her top similes because I compiled so many gems in my adventure! Definitely check her out and thanks for reading, Summer.

  3. den169 · October 14, 2016

    Thanks for sharing these!

  4. Daniel Rovira · October 17, 2016

    Shipping News is one of my favourite books! A great list of techniques that can be used in an English class.

  5. Daniel Rovira · October 18, 2016

    Yep! You can check out some English stuff on my blog.

  6. shoshibookblog · October 24, 2016

    Thank you for the link – this is such a great list (and a wonderful reminder of some of my favourite phrases from ‘The Shipping News’)

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