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In The Beauty Of The Lilies

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  1,218 ratings  ·  123 reviews
When Clarence Wilmot, a Presbyterian clergyman, loses his faith and becomes an encyclopedia salesman, he opens the saga of one American family's twentieth-century relationship with God and all things religious.
Paperback, 512 pages
Published April 24th 1997 by Penguin (first published 1996)
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The plot of "In the Beauty of the Lilies" is as ambitious as the title itself, and in the hands of a lesser author, I daresay the story would've run out of steam by page 30. But this is Updike, an author who could write riveting and gorgeous VCR instruction manuals.

The book's scope is grand. It follows in intricate detail the pulses and patterns of an entire family through four generations, giving us not just a powerful look at the evolution of the family, but of the country in which they live....more
Rebecca F.
This is the first Updike novel I read, and upon reading, it was apparent to me what incredible mastery of the English language Updike has. I was totally impressed by his use of words to describe scenery, thoughts, feelings, people, everything. Beautiful, clean sentences. Compact thoughts that linger over the paragraph. A story of four generations in an east-coast American family, the reader rides the waves of nostalgia gliding along impressively guided by the pull of Updikes wordsmithing. The fi...more
Christy Potter
I think it's worth noting that I'm writing this review a full three days after finishing the book - it took me that long to recover. This is another Updike masterpiece, but fans of his Rabbit books should be warned going in that these characters are deeper and more complex than Harry and Janice (bless 'em). The way Updike sprawls the story of the Wilmot family across four generations, stopping along the way to pick up some of the most intense characters I've ever encountered, is mesmerizing enou...more
Timothy Cole
One of Updike's finest. The thread running through four generations is the inability to maintain a faith, the proliferation of doubt. Even in the end, the resolve of unsupported faith fails the believer.
One cannot speed-read Updike. Anyone who tells you they breezed through this book (or many of Updike's other books) in a few hours is lying through his teeth. His complex sentences outdo Faulkner and Hardy; a single sentence can espouse a soul-changing philosophy but in 200 or so words.
I searched...more
I think the concept of a book which chronicles the lives of four generations of one family is a good one, though not new. And in the case of Updike's writing, which focuses on describing the minutiae of a setting in order to authenticate it, it can be dazzling, wearying.

The book begins with Clarence Wilmot, a Presbyterian minister in 1910 New Jersey who becomes aware one afternoon that he is an atheist. His ethical sensibilities compel him to resign, though he has no other trade and his ineptit...more
Richard Needham
I began this book on page 163.John Updike is a

wonderful writer, with keen powers of

perception and description. I have read most of

his novels, and a smattering of book reviews

and essays. When he died earlier this year I

re-read some of his earlier work (the Rabbit

series, the Bech series, the Maples stories),

but never this one.

But to get back to page 163: "The girl dressed

in a slightly off-key way...a little too

fancily for everyday some days, her hair done

up behind in an old-fashioned rib...more
Laura Cowan
Yet another brilliant literary book I couldn't finish. I'm working through a pile of contemporary lit I wanted to check out, and so much of it bores me because of its content. I think this says more about my changing tastes as a reader than these authors such as Updike, who are obviously very good at what they do. Just not my thing, I guess, though that surprises me because I do love so much classic literature. For me, a book needs to both grab me with its ideas and its story. So much modern lit...more
First John Updike book I've read, and probably the last. It started out promising, although depressing, describing a minister's loss of faith and the effect it had on his life and entire family. The high point was the section about his son Teddy, and the love interest with a club foot who he met in the small town they moved to when the father dies. He was a likable character in an affable, bland kind of way. But everything goes downhill from there. His daughter, Alma, becomes a vapid, self-cente...more

With Updike's recent passing, I decided to tackle the lone remaining unread Updike book on my shelf (I've previously read the Rabbit books, Couples, Witches of Eastwick, Museums and Women, and Of the Farm.)

Lillies ranks near the bottom of these Updike books, but that's not to say it wasn't enjoyable.

The book traces four generations of the Wilmot family:
It begins with Clarence, a preacher who gives up his faith; moves on to his youngest son Teddy, who finds relative happiness living as a mailman

Jee Koh
It is a tour-de-force, a novel that telescopes 80 years of American history through the lives of four characters. A Presbyterian minister who loses his faith. A young man who fears the world and so settles for the routine of mail delivery. A Hollywood star. A joiner of a religious cult. What connects them is family, for the cult follower is the son of the Hollywood star, who is the daughter of the mailman, who is the son of the minister. Through these four generational representatives, Updike tr...more
Read before I started listing books on Goodreads. Enjoyed Updike many years ago, but hadn't read any of his later works. Despite the suggestion of the ttitle of visual beauty, this story is about the decaying world of rural America and how modernity fails for people left behind in these small communities. Bottom line I like mature Updike better than the Updike of the Rabbit Run series.
Movie getting made in first scene. Then preacher looses faith. Loose faith=loose self. Having faith=having self. Faithlessness empties him...mostly it destroys his job which IS his life. But also his self is diminished. if you read closely there is a noticable emptiness in him.
It had to be fictionalized to SEE what lack of faith does to people.
So even if he's doing great with his objective mental life, his subjective self is falling apart.
He doesn't notice this equation, as i didnt either...
Cathy Douglas
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Della Scott
I'm very excited about In the Beauty of the Lilies, a 1996 novel by John Updike. It's one of those multi-generational novels set against the backdrop of American history that I love. In this case it's 80 years of the Wilmot family. The story begins in 1910 in Patterson NJ when actress mary Pickford faints on a movie set. In those days movies were shot on the East coast. It would be a few years before studios were in California. Movies will remain an important part of the novel throughout. Across...more
Andrew Bolender
Date: October 12, 2010
By: Andrew C Bolender
In the Beauty of the Lilies
By John Updike
491 pp. New York
Alfred Knopf, Kindle Edition
“In the Beauty of the Lilies” Book Review: Decoding the Ambiguity
Throughout his novel, “In the Beauty of the Lilies,” John Updike encapsulates the senses with an exhaustive utilization of imagery. In many cases, the setting has so much concision in its definition, one might find their subconscious fully immersed in the description of these surroundings. Unafraid of draw...more
Review in progress, first draft: (view spoiler)...more
A story about four generations of an American family, starting with a Presbyterian pastor who loses his faith all the way down to a confused young man who joins a cultic commune.

John Updike gets a real believable feel for the turn of the twentieth century all the way to the nineties of our generation. He even talks about the professors of Princeton Seminary like B.B. Warfield. (I think John Updike is the only literary writer I know who can talk about infralapsarianism and hyperlapsarianism in a...more
A tale covering four generations of an American family from a time before the Great War, when a clergyman loses his faith and gives up his position in the community, down through the decades to his great grandson who becomes attached to a David Koresh clone and the subsequent siege brought on by a brush with the law. An interesting tale, but one that just failed to resonate with this reader. I am not sure why I failed to connect to the characters, but suspect that it might have been due to the g...more
Phil Koehler
Aug 26, 2008 Phil Koehler rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: my friends
Shelves: fiction
Updike is a writer who, frankly, just leaves me in awe. A brilliant mind working with the complexity of human relationships. He shows no interest in trying to dumb everythig down into a pseudo-Faulkner dream scape. Updike reveals life as people actually live in the un-pretty-fied world, within different social groups, over long periods of time. He's unbelievably detailed in his research and able to give the reader the perspective of so many diverse characters, with no superimposed judgement....n...more
This book is the answer to the question: "Does religion cause more harm than good?" And the answer is yes - more harm. Updike creates 4 generations of Wilmots beginning with the great, grandfather from Paterson, New Jersey, who quits his job as a minister because he no longer believes in God. It is a disastrous decision for him and his family because the community cannot accept a non-believer. The great-grandson, Clark, joins a Branch Davidian-type religious commune and ends up being shot by pol...more
Hans Becklin
God, the movies, sex, and 20th Century America intersect in this gem of a book by Updike. The characters are well-formed even though the scope (number of main characters, locations, plots) is monumental. His prose continues to be excellent and well-suited to the sort of things he writes about.
Katelyn Beaty
I picked this as an introduction to John Updike because I had read it was one of his most theological novels. Themes of doubt and secularization are certainly prominent, and are explored in a clever, engrossing way. Yet I was more intrigued by the structure: the sprawling family epic covering the entire 20th century, one of social disintegration and confusion, embodied in the preacher-turned-atheist Clarence and his progeny. I had difficulty with Updike's seeming obsession with sex (he's been de...more
Shelly Fromholtz
This is the first of John Updike that I've ever read, and sort of wished I had picked another. I liked about half of it (it was divided into four main sections, one per character). I found Teddy's & Essie's stories engaging and adored their characters. The first section, Clarence, was a bit too theological in parts, although I did enjoy reading through the character's struggle with faith. As an atheist, though, I couldn't help but be disappointed that Clarence's revelation brought him despai...more
Believe it or not this is my first john Updike book...initially, I found his long running sentences a lot to take in...but I quickly adjusted to his sophisticated writing style and ability and his uncanny ability to take you within the characters thoughts and motivations. I enjoyed going on a family journey over 4 generations, yet the unfolding of their lives was on the edge of cynical. It was obvious that Updike did a great deal of research in preparation of writing of this novel. His portrayal...more
This was a choice of our bookclub in memoriam of John Updike's death last year. I realized that I had never read one of his books and although this one was daunting because it was so long, I was glad that bookclub took me out of my normal comfort zone.
The first section of the book was very wordy and descriptive, so much so that I was not sure if I would even continue reading it. However, once the vantage point of the story changed to that of the son, I was suddenly intrigued and could not put th...more
Lisa Kortebein
An interesting book. I don't think he dealt with the God issue as much as he could or as much as he hinted at in the onset of the novel. However, the characters certainly test the limit of your patience. There isn't one character that does not carry a hint of realism - you can't like everyone or anyone all the time no matter how much you love or admire that person! Some characters you want to give a piece of your mind to. Others you'd like to lead from the morass that they've fallen into. Still...more
This book traces four generations of an American family over the 20th century. It begins with a Presbyterian minister who loses his faith, moves on to his son and grand-daughter (a Hollywood star), and ends with his great-grandson joining a cult. The book combines rich character development with a sweeping history of 20th century America. The writer is full of observations about 20th century America, and he finds sharp and pithy ways of presenting these insights. My one reservation was I thought...more
I am in the midst of this book. Reminiscent of Theodore Dreiser and Sinclair Lewis--portrait of a man on his way down. Beautiful prose, as always, with Updike.
I finished this book--very interesting portrayal of three generations of an American family--takes in a broad sweep of American history, from the silk weavers' strike in Paterson NJ before the WWI to a re-imagining of the Waco fundamentalist tragedy.
To be honest, Updike has never been my favorite fiction writer, but this is very good Updik...more
Cindy Reilly
Jul 03, 2011 Cindy Reilly rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cindy by: bookclub
Well-written and tragic story of four generations--each character trying to find themselves but not doing a very good job of it! With the exception of Essie, these characters either make no choices or simply fall into agreeable circumstances through no effort of their own. Great characterizations and attention to detail in weaving in the Hollywood theme and other contemporary elements.

I love that Clarence sells encylcopedias for a time. I still recall our set, including the dark wood bookcase, i...more
Nicholas P
Amazing. Lots of clear prose. Brilliant metaphors. Kept the tension going until the last page.
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Signed Copy 1 9 Aug 13, 2009 07:58AM  
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John Hoyer Updike (born March 18, 1932 in Shillington, Pennsylvania) was an American writer. Updike's most famous work is his Rabbit series (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit At Rest; and Rabbit Remembered). Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest both won Pulitzer Prizes for Updike. Describing his subject as "the American small town, Protestant middle class," Updike is well known for hi...more
More about John Updike...
Rabbit, Run (Rabbit Angstrom, #1) Rabbit at Rest (Rabbit Angstrom, #4) Rabbit Is Rich (Rabbit Angstrom, #3) Rabbit Redux (Rabbit Angstrom, #2) The Witches of Eastwick (Eastwick, #1)

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