The entire U.S. anti-terror apparatus is trained on one hapless pharmaceutical salesman in this debut novel by a U.S. congressman from New York.
Morris Feldstein’s personal philosophy is “[d]on’t make waves,” but he winds up making a tsunami. He stumbles into a one-nighter—actually 22 minutes—with a doctor’s receptionist shortly after she’s had a bad date with a creep who adulterates stolen medications and sells them as legitimate. The creep connection and Dick Cheney’s need to boost the terror alert ahead of the 2004 Republican convention put Morris on the radar of several federal agencies. His dalliance also requires atonement by acceding to his wife’s demand for a condo in Florida. There, she befriends a young Muslim towel boy, one of four suicide-bombing volunteers in a terrorist group, who’s been waiting 30 months for a mission. Now Morris really has a connection to terrorists, and Cheney has the makings of a hot alert color. In a book dotted with Yiddish expressions from the first word—“tsuris,” or trouble—Morris, alas, is a schlub, while his wife, Rona, plays guilt-breeding Jewish mother to a nice Muslim boy who isn’t sure the 72 virgins are worth it. There’s a lot of cliché to these characters, which is fine for farce and for their main role of getting the feds into a high-tech version of the Keystone Kops. Israel has fun with the bureaucratic side of national security but offers few surprises, while his political jabs are rather flat and facile, and, after all, a decade late.
He may have meant to warn against fresh hubris, but humor is a tricky vehicle at a time when refugees, casualties and decapitations can make it hard to see the lighter side of any aspect of the war on terror.