I love metaphors in fiction -- the funnier, the crazier, the more surprisingly apt, the better. For instance: in Elizabeth McCracken's story "Some Have Entertained Angels Unawares," a character is as "pale and bitter as aspirin," and another as "chinless and gloomy as a clarinet," and children sleep "beneath the clasped hands of the roof" (which I think I stole once; sorry, Elizabeth). In Bruce Duffy's The World As I Found It, outlandish, perfect metaphors are everywhere. On a single half page I found a person who smelled "like a sickroom quilt that needed airing," and ice that makes "a sound like a nail being wrenched from a board," then breaks "like the surface of a vast aboriginal egg." (By metaphor I'm referring to similes and metaphors, just to be clear.)
There are people who don't like this kind of literary whimsy, but I don't understand that. However, a writer friend of ours recently said something that made me stop and think. A writer should make sure a metaphor does at least two things, he said. A metaphor that's just a metaphor, that just serves to compare a thing to another thing, is not good enough. Metaphors should really work. The chosen metaphor should carry out the theme, or refer to something in a character's past, or bring out something hidden, or something. Otherwise, they're distracting flotsam.
This, I think, is an example of a rule that could very well improve the writing, certainly make it more rigorous and disciplined. However, in the above examples, the aspirin, the clarinet, and the nail would all have to go. The clasped hands and the egg would probably get to stay, because they resonate with the works' themes.
But I like all of them, and in my ideal world they would all get to stay, even if aspirin really does nothing more than sit there being pale and bitter. But I like junk shops, I like things not to match, and I think fiction should be full of surprises.
Where do you stand? Any examples of good, or, even better, bad metaphors?