So I took a friend to see the great man—elderly, as he called himself: raised in the Depression as my parents were. He talked a good deal about his new novel, Terrorist, and also spoke interestingly about writers of later generations than his own. It seems that younger writers lack staying power: they shoot their wad with their first book, which is usually extremely impressive in its ambition, and they typically fail to meet their early promise.
I find myself wanting to argue one side or another of this, but it's just silly: why argue a generalization?
Asked if writing is easier for him at this stage, Updike spoke of the challenge of finding fresh material. Indeed, a number of his recent books have felt to me like self-challenges: let's see if I can write a magic realist novel; what happens if I novelize Hamlet from his mother's perspective? Terrorist sounds like a similar writerly dare.
But when my friend expressed skepticism at this 70-year-old man's ability to convincingly portray a teenage Islamic fanatic ("I can't imagine it, how could he?") I pointed out (and reminded myself) that getting into other people's heads is Updike's job.
So Terrorist is probably a very good read and not necessarily worse for being the result of a thought experiment.
Still, it's not at the top of my list.
Filed in: Books