John Updike Writes a Thriller

Posted on June 5, 2006

John Updike, known for his literary fiction, short stories and poetry, has penned a thriller called Terrorist. The novel follows an 18-year-old high school student named Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy who is being groomed as a terrorist by a local imam. A USA Today review praised Updike's new novel.

The result: Updike's most adventurous and accessible novel in decades, and possibly the summer's most rewarding book for readers who want more than escapist fluff.

9/11 is at the heart of Terrorist, but this is not a 9/11 novel. Terrorist centers on an 18-year-old high school senior named Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy. The product of a rebellious Irish-Catholic mother and an Egyptian exchange student, Ahmad is smart, disciplined, handsome, profoundly lonely and appalled by the corrupt, lurid world around him - specifically his hometown of New Prospect, N.J., a manufacturing city that has fallen on hard times. His father abandoned the family when Ahmad was 3. The boy has spent most of his life yearning for a father figure.

The imam of his local mosque, with whom Ahmad has studied the Koran since age 11, fills that role. Despite his excellent SATs and grades, the boy has switched to the vocational track. The imam believes Ahmad should become a truck driver.

And a suicide bomber.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly each gave Terrorist a starred review. John Updike has been an inspirational figure of late in the book world. First he changes directions with his writing and pens an exciting thriller novel at age 74. Then he rallies the literati at BEA. The books has been denounced by a number of critics who object to the sympathetic portrayal of a young Muslim suicide bomber. Updike claims that the book isn't sympathetic to terrorists but is more of a study of racial and cultural strife.