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As the popularity of Baxter's stories attests, there's something appealing about this man and his wife—whether it's the love the creator has for his characters or whether it's just the way he delivers them to us on the page: "Saul, Patsy thought, was like one of those pastries you couldn'tgetenough of at first—you'd gorge on them. And then, it seemed, once you'd had enough of them, you wanted to get rid ofthat addiction,butyou couldn't, there was no way to stop. You were alwaysgoingtohave thosejellydoughnuts in your life because you had once craved them. Slowly but surely, they would put weight on you." (DA) The Cyclist by Viken Berberian Simon and Schuster, 2002, 187 pp., $10 (paper) In The Cyclist, first-time novelist Viken Berberian conceives of terrorists not as embodiments of abstractions such as madness, evil or misguided religious fervorbut as people. His unnamed narrator, whose mission will be to pedal a bomb into a Beirut resort, is human, has soft spots: a love of food and a weight problem, a frankly sensuous girlfriend (who's in on the plan), a deftness with language, savvy wit and a wistful lyricism in evoking landscapes, recipes and the international world. He'd be endearing—if it weren't for reminders, often jarringly lyric too, of his upcoming mission : "What this pastel portrait needs is a few strokes of violent vermilion like the .. . blood that I plan to spill." Berberian provides focused motives for this cold intent: a blast in our narrator 's village that killed many people, including his girlfriend's parents; and cultural politics. But this terrorist is no vengeance-driven naïf, blinkered by poverty and manipulated by evil networks (though he and the few other characters do constitute a cell that reports to "a unit of crack commandos " code-named TheAttorneys). He's the son of an art professor, so educated that his references range from trompe l'oeil to the Protestant Reformation to the Turkish origin of the name ofa pastry, and from Mecca to Mondrian to Marx. The rich, disparate allusions from overlapping cultures constitute one reward of the book—if not a justification for the jumble that resolves itself in the narrator 's mind with the action for which he's preparing. That mind is what we get most of, because for most of the novel, like Dalton Trumbo's Johnny, the man's in a hospital bed, incapacitated by a bicycle accident from which he hopes to recover in time to carry out his mission. The mental nature of the narrative is certainly apt, since one question raised by a terrorist's abominable act is What could be going through that person's mind? But it also creates stasis , and the compelling initialhooks— Will he go through with it? Will he and others die?—are less effective each time they come up. For all the deftness and wit of the prose, it's sometimes broad, occasionally imprecise; and the lyricism can get easy. The last pages twist and surprise like any thriller, however, and ultimately the book gratifies, though it should be noted that Berberian's goal of humanizing a terrorist is most effectively accomplished when the terror is factored out. Author and narrator are best at nuanced evocations of the people 194 · The Missouri Review behind regional and global politics (including a village elder, keeper of the synagogue, who cites a proverb that could serve as the novel's epigraph : "Better that my enemy should see good in me than I should see evil in him") and at precise descriptions of real-world complexities. The narrator , for example, is not only a Druze, adhering to Islam without being considered strictly a Muslim, since this faith "spans Sufism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity," but a Druze of the GaliUee, sharing "a common diplomacy " with the region's Jews. To evoke such complexities in one human being, along with thoughts, emotions and sensations—ranging from the ideological to the physical— that come from awareness in the contemporary world is to fulfill one of the greatest aims of literature. For that reason The Cyclist is worth reading...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 194-195
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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