Monday, July 9, 2012


by John Updike

When discussing this book with a friend who didn't care for it, she said something along the lines of 'He's clearly racist." But I'm not sure this is true. The characters in Updike's novels are frequently described in stereotypical terms, but to me, that seems to be the point. Updike does this to force the reader to confront these descriptions they may or may not have thought or believe themselves, and he does it universally, not just for Ahmad or Tylenol. After all,

Everyone's a little bit racist; it's true.
But everyone is just about as racist as you!
If we all could just admit
That we are racist, a little bit,
And everyone stop being so PC,
Maybe we could live in Harmony!
~ Avenue Q

However, that being said, I don't know how authentic Updike's characters are. Part of me feels like he bought into the terrifying propaganda going around after 9/11 that every Muslim in the Islamic community was plotting against the infidels (a word I really hate). In this way, I have to admit, the book does come across as racist. And I don't know much about Islam, but Terrorist does paint is a something to be afraid of, a religion that True Believers are willing to die for, in a very active, aggressive and terrifying way, taking out as many "unbelievers" as possible. Maybe Updike is just perpetuating stereotypes rather than presenting them as something to be confronted and questioned. I'd prefer to think that's not what he's doing, that he's going beyond that, but perhaps not. Maybe Updike is a racist.

The novel itself is not an easy read; I struggled through the very slow first 50 or so pages. And, in general, Terrorist is a very slow-moving novel. If you're looking for a plot-driven novel this is not it, Terrorist is character-driven. The only real action happens in the last 70 pages. I enjoy that it's character-driven, but being that the characters are based on stereotypes, I don't particularly like this book. 

Overall, I have mixed feelings about Terrorist. I did get caught up in Ahmad's development and his involvement with Excellency Home Furnishings and the imam and the scheme to blow up the Lincoln tunnel, but, again, all of that feels stereotypical in a damaging way, buying into the 9/11 terror propaganda. I'd like to think that Ahmad becomes friends with Mr. Levy, goes to college, and lives happily ever after with Joryleen, but the ending isn't that redemptive. It's. . . a little disappointing, and I don't recommend reading this book.

No comments: