I need help deciphering this sentence from a book:

"Even from this distance it appeared as an impossibly slender thread, a thread hanging in that submerged straw of a stairwell. It wavered slightly in the wake she was causing, almost as if saying goodbye."

Not sure how that the bolded "that" works in the sentence, is it describing the thread and what exactly is a straw of stairwell? How does "in the wake" work in this sentence?

  • What book? You need to cite the source, also it might help in understanding the context around your quotation..
    – user3169
    May 19, 2016 at 4:03
  • Please double check your transcription. There seem to be a couple of errors in what you have typed.
    – Catija
    May 19, 2016 at 4:30
  • Do you know what this "it" was? Where was she? What was she doing? If you knew all these and had looked up all the words you might've been unfamiliar with in a dictionary, you might be able to answer most if not all of your questions, I believe. May 19, 2016 at 5:50
  • sorry for the typo, yes its from a novel called Wool by Hugh Howey, it is my first time using this site! thank you for all the feedbacks!!
    – Samsam
    May 19, 2016 at 6:25
  • That is similar to the here. That, in this usage, is used to refer to something or someone we're familiar with: That dog is back again (you know which dog I'm talking about). This is different from That dog over there, which is not saying you know which dog I'm talking about. Yes, two usages, two meanings. May 19, 2016 at 14:03

2 Answers 2


As the other answer has explained the meaning of a "submerged straw", I am going to take on the remaining two points.

The word "that" here is used to indicate that a very specific stairwell is referred to ("that specific one"). I feel like there's more to it, but I hope the explanation suffices for now.

"In the wake she was causing": a wake is a disturbance in water or other fluid left behind a moving object (most commonly a ship, here, a person). Thus the meaning is that the thread was moved around by the water.

  • gotcha! thank you for the explanation. this really helps me constructs a scenario in my brain.
    – Samsam
    May 20, 2016 at 0:25

I see that this quote is from a novel called Wool by Hugh Howey:


Even so, it's kind of hard to understand "that submerged straw of a stairwell." I think it's literally a sunken boat's stairwell. The character is obviously in a diver's suit and has waded down the stairs into the area below. I think "straw" is meant to describe that the stairwell looks very narrow and long, like a milkshake straw. As her arms waver in the water, it blurs the view back up the straw/stairwell. (You have to picture yourself as a tiny person at the bottom of the inside of the straw.)

That submerged straw of a stairwell is a special construction. It's an uncommon type of analogy that compares the stairwell to a submerged straw -- somewhat similar to a metaphor.

  • thank you for the feedback !!so are you saying the word "that" is used as a pronoun(for example: that dog over there) instead of a noun clause that combines two sentences together?
    – Samsam
    May 19, 2016 at 7:02

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