Masood’s novel presents a stereoscopic, three-dimensional view of contemporary Muslim America: the way historical conflict in the Middle East lingers in individual lives, the way gossip travels in a close-knit immigrant community ... But swapping between these two perspectives also involves disorienting shifts in register ... Odder still: When our two leads finally meet, 162 pages in, they immediately fall in bed together ... Admittedly, Anvar’s story is more convincing. He’s unfailingly funny, frequently annoying and much more alive than Azza, whose grim life and secretive intensity make it difficult to see her beyond her circumstances. But her perspective is clarifying, too.
The Bad Muslim Discount starts off in darkly comic fashion ... In the opening sections of this novel, author Syed M. Masood mixes humor with tragedy. When it works, it’s captivating. When it doesn’t, it can feel uneven and disjointed ... Pride, religion, personal identity, romance and sexism are just some of swirling themes that Masood addresses in this brave novel. Ultimately, however, its success rests on the characters and our willingness to believe in them, and that is where The Bad Muslim Discount can feel a little short-changed.
Masood’s second novel...flirts exhilaratingly with all manner of skepticism before retreating into timid conventionality ... both story streams buoy us along and keep us guessing as to how Anvar and Azza will wind up in each other’s lives. The sure-handed manner with which Masood shapes Anvar’s tale (to say nothing of the humor with which he injects it) contrasts with the detached and self-constricting way he crafts Azza’s ... By bringing the abused and driven Azza into the irresolute and dispirited Anvar’s life (and bed), Masood introduces a welcome element of risk into the story. He then ramps up that risk by having Azza devise a plan by which she might free herself of her cruel prospective husband and also escape the clutches of her oppressive father ... when the author pans out, as he does every so often, to reveal the larger picture, the tension increases even more ... There is a tidiness to this story’s ending, one whose too-well-rounded contours even Masood’s cutting humor cannot sharpen. For all the skepticism with which the author treats both the American Dream and the notion of Islam as a guide to the proper life, eventually he relents and cedes ground to both (though the American Dream bit is admittedly seasoned with Canadian flavoring). This about-face enables him to fashion a feel-good denouement. But it also dulls a double-pronged critique that is one of the novel’s strongest suits.
The story is well written, but the fascinating familial and religious dynamics are often too convoluted, and the relationship between Anvar and Azza never takes off because Azza is not as fully developed a character as Anvar. Her victimization defines her even when she breaks free, which makes her disappointingly one-dimensional. An engaging though overly complicated story of two people fighting to overcome their circumstances.