Fritz Lanham in the Houston Chronicle:
He and his wife, Martha, live in rural Massachusetts but happened to be in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. They witnessed the collapse of the Twin Towers from a top-floor apartment across the East River in Brooklyn Heights.
“It was about the worst thing I’d ever seen,” Updike said. Terrible though it was, “it’s never struck me as something that couldn’t be written about.” Almost immediately he wrote a short story, Varieties of Religious Experience, about four characters caught up in the attack. The New Yorker turned the piece down, but Atlantic Monthly published it in November 2002.
He grew interested in how religious zealotry works on the mind of an otherwise decent young man. The main character in Terrorist is an 18-year-old Muslim convert, son of an Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father who abandoned his wife and son early on. The young man, Ahmad, falls under the sway of a radical cleric in his gritty New Jersey hometown and gets caught up in a 9/11-type plot.