Thursday, August 10, 2006
Post 9/11 Books Part 3 / Terrorist
John Updike's Terrorist made me wonder if we really are living through the end of Western civilization as we know it. The two main characters of the novel, a high school guidance counselor and his Muslim charge, represent polar opposites. The "American" side of the equation is fat, lazy, decrepit, and morally equivocal, while the Muslim terrorist-in-training is slim, ambitious, pure, and convinced he is right on moral issues. The young Muslim is vain about his appearance, he is not a saint, but he does have some ground to stand on in his condemnation of American laxness. The neglect he sees all around him, from the ashheaps that surround his home to his mother's come-and-go lovers, confirms his belief that he is on the right path. The novel leaves open the terrifying possibility that the "American way of life" is being exposed as a fraud even among our own citizens, and that these neglected citizens could act out their revenge through terrorist acts. Updike tries to get inside the head of a potential homegrown terrorist, and he succeeds in this only so far. He repeats some phrases over and over, almost like a heroic epithet, in describing the terrorist mind. Other than that, the novel succeeds in painting a terrifying picture of neglect turned into tragedy.