Friend’s way of saying the nice thing before the mean thing is the Yankee rejoinder to the Southern art of saying the mean thing before the nice thing (“she’s the pudgiest little thing, bless her heart”; “he’s dumb as a brick, God love him”). Somehow, the flipped order makes all the difference. The proverbial Dixie compliment is all passive aggression. The Friendly, by contrast, is sporting, even generous. One sees, in Friend’s magnificently repetitive use of the device, a Wasp playing badminton with himself. On one side of the net, the astringent observer of modern life whacks the shuttlecock. On the other, a courtly preppy lobs it back diffidently

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