Sarah Lyu’s debut novel The Best Lies explores what happens when a toxic friendship turns deadly. Remy thought Elise was her best friend, but then Elise shot and killed Remy’s boyfriend Jack. Was Elise acting in self defense, or is there a darker reason for her actions? Readers will have to pick up the book to find out. Here, Lyu shares her thoughts on toxic friendships in fiction and real life, and speculates about why we find ourselves drawn to them.
When my best friend and I lived in New York, we did everything together. In the morning, we’d get ready in the small bathroom we shared, have dinner just the two of us after work every evening, and talk about everything and nothing late into the night. Rinse and repeat. On the weekends, we often went down to her aunt’s house outside of Philadelphia. We spent vacations together. Our parents began thinking of us as sisters. We were inseparable, and we called each other soul mates.
We met in college, during a summer study abroad trip in Italy, and when we fell fast and hard into our friendship. We joked we were starring in our own romantic comedy. There is nothing like the rush of finding someone who understands you so completely and who loves you so intensely.
This is how Remy feels when she meets Elise in my new novel, The Best Lies. They also fall hard and fast into a friendship that feels like a whirlwind romance, drawn toward each other because of similar family trauma and a shared sense of isolation. They come to depend on one another. They begin to spend all of their time together. They think of themselves as a family of their own making. They call each other soul mates.
Perhaps this is why toxic friendships are so alluring, because long before they’re considered toxic, they’re actually quite pure and loving—boring even, in the everyday intimacy of shared meals and late night talks, of feeling seen and understood and accepted for your true self in little moments that add up to days and weeks and months.
We crave that, long for someone who’ll love us unconditionally, and we secretly hope we’ll find that someone even if we know such relationships aren’t sustainable, even if we’ve been burned by them in the past.
Maybe that’s also what makes toxic friendships so gripping to read about: We know they can’t last. When you make a relationship your whole world, it eventually buckles under its own weight and the aftermath is hard to look away from, not unlike a star collapsing unto itself.
For my best friend and me, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment things shifted, but it likely began when I moved out of our apartment, permanently disrupting our everyday routine and easy intimacy. For Remy and Elise, it’s when Remy meets Jack, who quickly usurps her time and attention (at least that’s how Elise sees it).
That’s the danger of making someone your whole world—sometimes they change their mind. Or sometimes they change as people. My best friend and I grew up, and while we’re in a better place and we’re still good friends today, the transition was painful, filled with fights that felt worse than breakups because that’s essentially what we were going through: a breakup of epic proportions.
For Remy and Elise, this shift away from codependency is made even more painful by their history and an awful trauma one of them experiences, but as for what happens, I’ll let you read the book to find out!
Sarah Lyu grew up outside of Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She currently resides in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband and dog. She loves a good hike but can often be found with a book on her lap and sweet tea in hand. The Best Lies is her first book. You can visit her at SarahLyu.com or on Twitter @sarahlyu.