Despite some terrible reviews, John Updike’s The Terrorist is selling better than any of his novels have in quite awhile. The Wall Street Journal reports that six reprints take The Terrorist to 118,000 copies, which puts Updike on at least seven bestseller lists. This, after an LA Times reviewer likened the book to "paint-by-numbers angst."
Updike — who has published twenty-two novels and has been a New Yorker contributor for, oh, half a century — will be reading at the First Unitarian Church in Cambridge on Thursday, June 29 (sponsored by the Harvard Book Store). Tickets are $25 and include a first edition. Worth every penny, in my opinion. But Word Up is split on the value of this one: Nina hates his guts, and I sometimes sleep with a tattered copy of Pigeon Feathers under my pillow. I just don't think that anyone writes about religion, suburban sex scandals, and the world crashing in on you with as much lyrical grace as Updike. Does this explain why someone once gave me a copy of 14,000 Things to Be Happy About, by Barbara Ann Kipfer, for my sixteenth birthday? Perhaps. It's this sickening, chunky gift book and basically a glorified list of inspirational gems that I guess are used to inspire positive thinking. Flannel sheets. Making faces at monkeys at the zoo. No. I'd rather read about the dissolution of the American family, thanks.
If you're not familiar with Updike's work, please drop everything and read "A&P," one of his excruciatingly good short stories. The thing has been anthologized nearly everywhere, so you may have come across it before. Still, this kind of stark, human observation never, never gets old. Unlike Updike himself. I absolutely adore the fact that he used a boxing metaphor to describe how he feels about his current book tour. (His publisher, Knopf, figured his celebrity would help sell more books. And it looks like they were right.) The man might pushing 75 and looking pretty peaked these days, but it's no surprise to me that he's willing to take the pain and get the figurative shit kicked out of him by critics and gawkers alike.
“It’s something I discovered I can do. It’s like Muhammad Ali, who towards the end of his career discovered he could take a punch. I can take the punch of a book tour, although it’s not over, and I might be on the mat before you know it.”
REVIEWS: Boston Globe, CS Monitor, and NYTBR.