‘Like a steamrolled moon’

As long-time blog readers know, I’m a fan of Karen Russell’s writing, so it makes my day to see her first (as far as I recall) non-fiction in The New Yorker: “Helping Hand: Robots, video games, and a radical new approach to treating stroke patients.” The subject is fascinating — tech, humanity, neuroscience — but Russell also brings her descriptive powers to bear.

Five favorite comparisons from the piece:

  1. “Krakauer is forty-nine, with soft, prairie-dog hair….”
  2. “The Hocoma ArmeoPower is a robotic arm that brings to mind the love child of a large dental chair and the Nintendo Power Glove.”
  3. “To climb out of the Pit, Kat and I pulled ourselves up using several cold red rails, reaching with our arms and legs, cinder-blocking our muscles against gravity.”
  4. “Bright creatures slid thickly over one another. A ray looked like a steamrolled moon. Bluefish schooled around with yellow pouts, as if regretting their choice of lipstick.”
  5. “His arms, which were usually ottery when he spoke, lay rigid on the table.”

And two strong snags from her interviews:

  1. “Most cases result from clots that stop blood from flowing to part of the brain, causing tissue to die. ‘Picture someone standing on a hose, and the patch of grass it watered dying almost immediately,’ Steve Zeiler, a neurologist and a colleague of Krakauer’s, told me.”
  2. “S. Thomas Carmichael, a neuroscientist and neurologist at U.C.L.A., compared the period of plasticity [of the brain after a stroke] to the explosion of seedlings after a forest fire: it’s a fecund time, but those shoots are tender, vulnerable, easily damaged.”

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