Terrorist Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Jun 6 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Ripped from the headlines doesn't begin to describe Updike's latest, a by-the-numbers novelization of the last five years' news reports on the dangers of home-grown terror that packs a gut punch. Ahmad Mulloy Ashmawy is 18 and attends Central High School in the New York metro area working class city of New Prospect, N.J. He is the son of an Egyptian exchange student who married a working-class Irish-American girl and then disappeared when Ahmad was three. Ahmad, disgusted by his mother's inability to get it together, is in the thrall of Shaikh Rashid, who runs a storefront mosque and preaches divine retribution for "devils," including the "Zionist dominated federal government." The list of devils is long: it includes Joryleen Grant, the wayward African-American girl with a heart of gold; Tylenol Jones, a black tough guy with whom Ahmad obliquely competes for Joryleen's attentions (which Ahmad eventually pays for); Jack Levy, a Central High guidance counselor who at 63 has seen enough failure, including his own, to last him a lifetime (and whose Jewishness plays a part in a manner unthinkable before 9/11); Jack's wife, Beth, as ineffectual and overweight (Updike is merciless on this) as she is oblivious; and Teresa Mulloy, a nurse's aide and Sunday painter as desperate for Jack's attention, when he takes on Ahmad's case, as Jack is for hers. Updike has distilled all their flaws to a caustic, crystalline essence; he dwells on their poor bodies and the debased world in which they move unrelentingly, and with a dispassionate cruelty that verges on shocking. Ahmad's revulsion for American culture doesn't seem to displease Updike one iota. But Updike has also thoroughly digested all of the discursive pap surrounding the post-9/11 threat of terrorism, and that is the real story here. Mullahs, botched CIA gambits, race and class shame (that leads to poor self-worth that leads to vulnerability that leads to extremism), half-baked plots that just might work-all are here, and dispatched with an elegance that highlights their banality and how very real they may be. So smooth is Updike in putting his grotesques through their paces-effortlessly putting them in each others' orbits-that his contempt for them enhances rather than spoils the novel.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Updike is never static; over the course of his long career, he has not only mastered various literary forms but also tackled a wide variety of subjects as material for his fiction. His new novel, swift, sinewy, and stylish, represents another big leap. In the hands of a lesser writer, such a risky topic and premise easily could have come across as presumptuous. Ahmad, an 18-year-old high school student, is the son of an Irish American mother and an Egyptian father. He has taken up the Islamic faith of his father so completely that he is obsessed with distancing himself from the unclean infidel, which is how he views the New Jersey community in which he lives. The high-school guidance counselor, who attempts to steer young Ahmad in a direction he feels is more suitable and productive, is a compelling and oddly attractive supporting character, who, as it turns out, plays a vital role in a deadly plot into which Ahmad tumbles like the naive, easily manipulated adolescent he is. This marvelous novel can be accurately labeled as a 9/11 novel, but it deserves also the label of masterpiece for its carefully nuanced building up of the psychology of those who traffic in terrorism. Timely and topical, poised and passionate, it is a high mark in Updike's career. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top Customer Reviews
Those are the thoughts of 18-year-old Ahmad, a student at a New Jersey high school. He appears to be a bomb waiting to go off - the son of an Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father who took off when the boy was three, he is devoted to Islam and has found a surrogate father in the imam who gives him instruction. It's not only his classmates that Ahmad disdains but also his mother and the string of boyfriends she dangles.
Updike points a chilling portrait of a would be terrorist and also causes readers to wonder why no one had evidently seen the signs of this boy's mind set. In the author's description one of the reasons he's bent on destruction is that he can't think of anything else to do after high school. Little reason for killing people.
No notice is taken when Ahmad suddenly evidences an interest in learning how to operate large trucks nor has anyone noted that the boy has never had a friend - male or female. One wonders if he ever longed to be a part of the high school crowd or go out with one of the girls he denigrates It is as if he has developed in a vacuum with only his hatred of American materialism to keep him company.
Terrorist is an eerie dissection of an obsessive mind, a troubling story yet a necessary one as it relates to our world today. Plus, in the hands of the master John Updike it is rich in elegant prose and descriptive passages so substantive that it seems characters may leap from the page.
- Gail Cooke
As I read John Updike's book, I kept thinking that this was a book designed to explain what doesn't appear to be the case . . . a native-born American becoming a terrorist who follows Islamic beliefs to pursue Jihad. From the beginning, the premise didn’t ring true. And the story itself rang even less true.
If you can get past that point, you still have to deal with Mr. Updike trying to describe something that's very different from his own cultural experiences. Mr. Updike seems to have worked hard at it, but again his depictions of the characters don't ring true to me.
Here's the story in a nutshell. A young man, Ahmad Ashmaway Mulloy, decides to identify with his absent father's Egyptian heritage while being raised by his round-heeled Irish-American mother with whom he doesn't feel very connected or comfortable. The identity becomes centered on practicing Islam. At the local mosque, he's encouraged to stop his education after high school to become a truck driver. Depressed guidance counselor, Jack Levy, tries to dissuade Ahmad, but only succeeds in becoming his mother's lover. Ahmad is introduced to the Chehab family, whose furniture store needs a new driver. Pretty soon, he's being sounded out for his feelings about Jihad.Read more ›
Too bad. It ruins what could otherwise be something worth talking about.