May 2 2011
Elif Batuman: Dangerous Friends
Everyone loves reading about a diabolical mastermind who plots the downfall of his unwitting enemies. But there's a variation on the literary villain whom I find particularly compelling: the dangerous friend who lays waste to the lives of his lovers, neighbors, and associates. The prototype of this character is Shakespeare's Iago—a trusted friend who has everyone's worst interests at heart. Shakespeare never fully explains the mystery of the dangerous friend: Why does he act that way? As Joan Didion puts it in the famous opening line of her novel Play It as It Lays, "What makes Iago evil?" This is the question that each of the books below attempts to answer in its own way.
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