Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Terrorist - - Kookiejar's Review

I generally like Updike's work. In his Rabbit Angstrom series he encapsulated the American experience through 4 decades, and taken as a whole, may go down in history as 'The Great American Novel".

"Terrorist", however, will probably go down in history as "when John Updike jumped the shark".

"Terrorist" treads many familiar Updike themes, religion, patriotism, consumerism, infidelity and marriage. It is
the story of a teenage boy of half Arab ancestry who adopts the religion and culture of his absent father, but gets sucked into the ugly, fanatical side of Islam. The crux of the story is, will he or won't he fulfill his perceived destiny and blow up the truck bomb as he's been instructed to do.

However this novel, although well-written, is just not believable. The boy, Ahmad, talks like a 70 year old man who is trying to sound like a teenager. His main rival at school is a black boy named Tylenol (Really, Mr Updike? Tylenol? I know people sometimes give their children silly names, but this is beyond my ken), and the
guidance counselor who becomes a surrogate father to Ahmad (a character we are supposed to root for, mind you), is such a bitter, cruel, mean-spirited misogynist I wish Ahmad would have blown him up.

The only part of the novel that I really enjoyed were the parts where we spent time with the guidance counselor's wife. She is a pathetic, fat mess of a woman (and married to that man, you can sympathize with her apathy about her life), who turns out to be more useful and vital than even she knew. If the novel focused on her part in the story instead of relegating her to a short chapter, I would have been a lot happier with it.

Read this if you want to but I say, you'd be better off reading something else.


Wendy said...

Well this one didn't make my list - and it sounds like a good decision. I may be the only person out there who didn't like the Rabbit series. I found the characters more than a little annoying; and so I have been reluctant to read Updike again.

Joy said...

Yikes...sorry it wasn't a good experience Kookie.

Wendy ~ I read Rabbit, Run and hated it. You are NOT alone. I do not plan on reading any more Updike; one was enough.

kookiejar said...

Yeah, if you already leery of Updike, you'd best steer clear of this one. "Rabbit" was much better, although I can totally see why people wouldn't like it. Very few characters in literature are more self-centered and self-serving than Rabbit Angstrom (which might be why he was such a good representative of the American people in the 60s and 70s). 'Terrorist', however...blech!

Kim said...

This was not on my list, and I am super glad after reading your review!