A magazine I used to read once ran a competition for creative misprints. The prize went to a reader who transformed a stanza in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by adding a single letter to a single word; in the doctored version, the Mariner was compared to

one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful friend
Doth close behind him tread.

Ah yes, many of us will know what it is to be pursued by a frightful friend. Friendship can be a complicated phenomenon.

Few writers are better equipped to examine its complexities than Joseph Epstein. He has established himself, in both his essays and his stories, as a notably shrewd observer of men and manners, at once subtle and down to earth. His humor rests on a strong sense...


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