Sunday, June 18, 2006


Terrorist by John Updike

By Edward Copeland
As I promised back in June when I wrote my post about Philip Roth and John Updike, I've finally written a review of Updike's Terrorist once I finished the novel. As with most Updikes, there are multiple pleasures to be found in Terrorist and it certainly works better than some of his other ventures into uncharted (for him) territory, but as a whole it doesn't quite hold together. When I took a novel writing class in college, the professor's religion of choice was the idea that to sell a successful novel, you needed a solitary viewpoint to hold the reader. I didn't agree with him then and I don't agree with him now, but I can see his point to some extent in Terrorist.

The story's main focus is on 18-year-old Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy, a graduating New Jersey high school student and product of an absent Egyptian father and a troubled Irish-American mother, who has embraced radical Islam and becomes part of a plot to set off explosives in New York's Holland Tunnel. Ahmad's character certainly couldn't be further from the ethnic and religious backgrounds Updike knows best, but the master novelist gives it the old college try and hits more than he misses.

What mucks up the story in Terrorist are Updike's occasional diversions into other lives. The sections dealing with Ahmad's concerned high school counselor Jack Levy do serve a purpose (and his affair with Ahmad's mother Teresa does provide the requisite adulterous sex that no Updike novel can live without), but sections that deal solely with Levy's wife and especially with the Homeland Security secretary (obviously a parody of Tom Ridge) and his secretary just slow down the story, despite their eventual integral nature to the plot, though I'd argue that Updike would have produced more suspense without those scenes.

On top of that, the novel's climax, which does produce momentum unusual for an Updike novel, has some very questionable developments that I'll avoid going into to avoid spoiling it for those who haven't read the book yet. As always, Updike provides some beautiful prose and many insights into religions of all kinds and life in modern America, but overall I think Terrorist fails more than it succeeds, though kudos to Updike for continuing to explore new territory well into his 70s.

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Listen, any Updike is better than no Updike at all !!!

Do you remember the last part of In The Beauty Of The Lillies ???

Remember all that 'Branch Dividians' stuff ??

I'm thinking that's a little bit how 'Terrorist' is; but not having read it yet, I don't know.

I'm reading Rabbit At Rest, right now, 794 pages in large print----Yikes; but once I finish that, whenever that is...

....I'm gonna start in with 'Terrorist'.

Peace, Maxine
I love In the Beauty of the Lilies and Rabbit At Rest. Terorist isn't bad, but it's nowhere near either of those books' league.
Thanks for reviewing this- I think I will read- wow Updike is still pretty brave- in his 70's and still pounding out what matters... ( like Maxine said Any Updike)
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