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The ever-surprising John Updike’s twenty-second novel is a brilliant contemporary fiction that will surely be counted as one of his most powerful. It tells of eighteen-year-old Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy and his devotion to Allah and the words of the Holy Qur’an, as expounded to him by a local mosque’s imam.
The son of an Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father who disappeared when he was three, Ahmad turned to Islam at the age of eleven. He feels his faith threatened by the materialistic, hedonistic society he sees around him in the slumping factory town of New Prospect, in northern New Jersey. Neither the world-weary, depressed guidance counselor at Central High School, Jack Levy, nor Ahmad’s mischievously seductive black classmate, Joryleen Grant, succeeds in diverting the boy from what his religion calls the Straight Path. When he finds employment in a furniture store owned by a family of recently immigrated Lebanese, the threads of a plot gather around him, with reverberations that rouse the Department of Homeland Security.
But to quote the Qur’an: Of those who plot, God is the best.
“Updike is never static; over the course of his long career, he has not only mastered various literary forms but also tackled a wide variety of subjects as material for his fiction. His new novel, swift, sinewy, and stylish, represents another big leap. In the hands of a lesser writer, such a risky topic and premise easily could have come across as presumptuous . . . This marvelous novel can be accurately labeled as a 9/11 novel, but it deserves also the label of masterpiece for its carefully nuanced building up of the psychology of those who traffic in terrorism. Timely and topical, poised and passionate, it is a high mark in Updike’s career.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Updike’s intriguing 22nd novel [is] a scary portrayal of uptight, perpetually imperiled post-9/11 America . . . Updike continues to entice, provoke, and astonish. Who knows where he’ll take us next?” —Kirkus Reviews
“Packs a gut punch . . . Updike has thoroughly digested all of the discursive pap surrounding the post-9/11 threat of terrorism, and that is the real story here. Mullahs, botched CIA gambits, race and class shame (that leads to poor self-worth that leads to vulnerability that leads to extremism), half-baked plots that just might work–all are here, and dispatched with an elegance that highlights their banality and how very real they may be. So smooth is Updike in putting his grotesques through their paces–effortlessly putting them in each others’ orbits–that his contempt for them enhances rather than spoils the novel.” —Publishers Weekly