Elif Batuman

  • The Money Plot

    Stanley Elkins The Magic Kingdom is about a man’s efforts to take a group of terminally ill children to Disney World. Published in 1985, it is about as unsentimental and hilarious a chronicle of the indignities of life as I’ve ever encountered. The language and wit of the narration, and the detail lavished on the wretchedly afflicted children, keep what is now a familiar trope—the Make-A-Wish phenomenon—very fresh. There is a funny sequence toward the beginning of the novel when the protagonist, Eddy Bale, himself a grieving father, gains an audience with the Queen of England. He hopes for a

  • syllabi May 02, 2011

    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