John Updike's Novel "Terrorist"

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Here's my Review for John Updike's last work of fiction, "Terrorist"



Ahmad is a mixed up American teenager. He dreams idealistic dreams of his absent and handsome Yemeni father, while taking his Irish heritage mother for granted. She works hard in the hospital but dreams of realising her ambitions through painting, as she works her way through a stream of unsuitable lovers, men that Ahmad does not approve of, just as young men in such circumstances often do, or don’t.

   Ahmad laughs at his mother’s Catholic religion, what’s that all about? All that shrieking singing and crazy pictures? Preferring as he does, to follow his father’s Muslim calling, something that vaguely amuses his mother, as Ahmad spends more and more time at the mosque, learning long scriptures by heart, perfecting his Arabic, one-to-one, with a zealous and impressed Imam.

   Meanwhile, back at school Ahmad attracts the attention of teacher and career advisor Jack the Jew, an older man who’s pressing Ahmad to go on to college, to achieve great things, - you can do it boy, he says, but Ahmad has already set his heart on becoming a truck driver.

   ‘You could do so much better for yourself,’ insists Jack, turning to his mother, showing interest in her too, despite the twin facts that he’s married and twenty years older than Ahmad’s Ma.

   ‘Trucks are for me,’ insists Ahmad, ‘and the pay’s good too!’

   So begins John Updike’s book “Terrorist”, a novel that seems to have divided critics and readers alike and I can see why. He doesn’t hold back in taking a pop at various sections of society, the obese for a start, and who can deny that America has a big problem with that, and America is not alone either.

   In places it came across as a book from a man who was coming toward the end of his life and was disappointed at how things had turned out. In places he appeared to be losing touch with modern technology too, an easy thing to do when you get older, maybe yearning for the simpler life of pen and ink and landline telephones and damn all else, worried that if you take your eyes off the rolling ball of latest hi-tech developments for a couple of weeks you fall off the tech wagon forever, never to remount.

   I have seen Mister Updike described as America’s greatest modern writer and I have no idea if that is true as I have yet to sample the other 95% of them, but he is a great writer, and I use the present tense knowing full well that he passed away in January 2009, for great writers’ works remain with us forever, here and now, and his books will surely be read for generations to come.

   Critics have attacked this book for being filled with stereotypical characters, and to some extent that may be true, but I don’t see a great problem with that, lots of people out there are precisely that, typical, and Ahmad certainly isn’t like anyone I know, or have ever met.

   The book is filled with overlong sentences and do you know something, I quite liked that, it kind of hooked me and kept me reading, just as the book did itself. It kept me awake too when I should have been sleeping. (One up for the writer!) I kind of guessed the ending long before I arrived there, yet I didn’t quite do so, and I couldn’t put the book down, so keen was I to find out precisely how things really turned out.

   During his life Mister Updike wrote and had published more than seventy books, a mammoth achievement in anyone’s language, and I am sure there are far better ones of his out there than “Terrorist” – his last fictional work, but I really enjoyed it, and I am certain it will stay with me long after I set it down, and in the end I guess that’s what all writers are truly aiming for, because it doesn’t happen that often.

   And here's the man himself talking about advice for young and aspiring writers:







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