With his mantelpiece already crowded with major literary awards, John Updike could contentedly rest on his laurels and continue to write about what he calls his main subject: "American small town, Protestant middle class." Instead, this Nobel Prize contender insists on grappling with issues on the cutting-edge of history. In Terrorist, Updike takes on the hot-button topic of our time. At the center of this large-scale ensemble novel is Ahmad Mulloy Asmawy, a radically alienated Egyptian-Irish-American teenager who falls under the thrall of a New Jersey storefront jihadist. Moving in strange counterpoint to Ahmad is Jack Levy, a 63-year-old guidance counselor who hopes to steer this fledgling terrorist away from absolutist influences. Updike engages us by placing us inside the psyche of someone who, given the opportunity, would destroy us. A major literary event.
The last part of the novel is suspenseful. It brings together a serviceable plot, which leans a little heavily on coincidental connections, a questionable provocation and some broadly motivated acts of heroism. It seems meant as a fable, and any good fable requires some derring-do. The most satisfactory elements in Terrorist are those that remind us that no amount of special pleading can set us free of history, no matter how oblivious and unresponsive to it we may be. And that history, in disposing of empires, admits of no innocents and spares no one.
The New York Times
Updike's latest offers up a probing post-9/11 history lesson on America-its mythology and street realities, religious attitudes, and the myriad nationalities that have borne this country fruit. Lane has his work cut out, and for the most part delivers. He contends with multiple foreign accents and American dialects, not to mention gospel singing and Arabic recitations of the Koran. The tale follows a righteous Muslim teenager named Ahmad, an (Irish-Arab) American born and bred in northern New Jersey, and his seemingly inevitable journey toward a domestic suicide attack. Ahmad's Irish mother, Jewish guidance counselor and Lebanese employer/handler are all rendered with distinction by Lane. But Ahmad's accent is odd and hard to trace, almost seeming to contain a Dixie influence. Lane voices an African-American schoolmate in similar style, creating the potential for confusion when the two interact. Phone calls, snippets of TV shows, speeches and sermons are treated with a through-a-speaker effect that is sometimes disconcerting. But it doesn't detract from a generally rich audio experience, one built on diverse narration and ethnically sprawling storytelling. Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover (Reviews, Apr. 10). (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Along with Philip Roth, Updike remains our modern-day Henry James and Nathaniel Hawthorne. In his work, he has examined the motivations of scientists (Roger's Book), the angst of aging high school basketball stars (the Rabbit tetralogy), and the sexual peccadilloes of ministers (A Month of Sundays). Here he captures the internal conflicts of an Islamic boy whose sights are set on martyrdom through a terrorist act. Ahmad, the son of an Irish American mother and an Egyptian father, joins a local mosque in New Prospect, NJ, at the age of 11. Soon he is entranced by the teachings of Islam, and the local imam takes the boy under his wing. By the time Ahmad is a high school senior, all that he sees around him is godless consumerism. After graduation, he gets a job at a local furniture store that is a front for a radical Muslim organization and becomes a principal in the plan to commit a terrorist act. Updike captures brilliantly the coercive tactics of the organization and the young boy's uncertainties about his actions. At the same time, Updike falters in his portrait by depicting Ahmad as a "typical American teenager" cast into an uncomfortable role of an Islamic terrorist. Even so, Updike's always beautiful prose and his ever-probing imagination trace what happens when worlds collide. All libraries will want to order this. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/06.]-Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Discursiveness, coincidence and a barely credible surprise ending compromise, but do not critically impair, Updike's intriguing 22nd novel: a scary portrayal of uptight, perpetually imperilled post-9/11 America. It's set in Prospect, N.J., where high-school senior Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy (son of an Egyptian exchange student father and an Irish-American mother)-a self-declared "good Muslim, in a world that mocks faith"-quietly distances himself from the future his education and culture appear to promise. During the summer of 2004, Ahmad rejects the idea of college (despite the promptings of his guidance counselor, "lapsed Jew" Jack Levy), acquires a commercial driver's license and finds employment driving a truck for a Lebanese family (the Chehabs) who own and operate Excellency Home Furnishings. Up until the "mission" for which fast-talking, seemingly Americanized Charlie Chehab has prepared Ahmad is undertaken, Updike does what he does (a) best: paints a densely detailed picture of complacent, overindulgent, morally befuddled urban America-while simultaneously demonstrating persuasive mastery of the scriptures Ahmad worships; and (b) worst: burdens the narrative with urgent sex (Jack's adultery with Ahmad's free-spirited mother Teresa; Ahmad's near-seduction by a black classmate sunk in the slough of godlessness he so despises) and very nearly risible coincidences. Nevertheless, much of the novel works smashingly: Ahmad's impassioned sessions with his slyly seductive Muslim mentor Shaikh Rashid; his tense relationships with schoolmates and muted bonding with his amoral mom; and especially what look to be his final hours, as he drives the furniture truck toward his longed-for destination:paradise. Some readers will call the novel's ending a cop-out; others may acknowledge it as a wry dramatization of the impossibility of predicting where contemporary ethnic and religious conflicts are leading us. However it's read, Updike, approaching his mid-70s, continues to entice, provoke and astonish. Who knows where he'll take us next?First printing of 150,000
Terrorist leaves the reader ripping through the book to its finale, desperate to find out what happens. . . . [A] compelling and surprising ride.”—USA Today
“A chilling tale that is perhaps the most essential novel to emerge from September 11.”—People (Critic’s Choice)
“Riveting . . . emotionally daring . . . Updike’s ability to get inside the mind of his Ahmad . . . is what renders the novel credible and sometimes wrenching in its authenticity.”—The Boston Globe