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In The Beauty Of The Lilies

3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,378 Ratings  ·  143 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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Feb 28, 2012 Daniel rated it it was amazing
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.
Rebecca F.
Sep 17, 2012 Rebecca F. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Richard Needham
Oct 25, 2009 Richard Needham rated it liked it
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
Laura Cowan
Mar 10, 2013 Laura Cowan rated it liked it
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
Mar 14, 2010 Vera rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 10, 2009 Justin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Aug 19, 2011 Jee Koh rated it really liked it
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
Mike Coleman
Feb 05, 2015 Mike Coleman rated it it was amazing
Let the master take you by the hand and lead you through four generations of a family, across the greater part of the 20th century in America. A beautiful work that can't be hurried through, starting with a Presbyterian pastor who wakes up one morning to discover his faith is gone. In the three sections that follow, the pastor's son, his granddaughter--who becomes a 1950s movie star--and his great grandson tell their stories. I won't give away the pleasure of following the meandering storyline b ...more
Cameron Bradford
Oct 06, 2015 Cameron Bradford rated it really liked it
This novel goes through four generations of the Wilmot family and follows four main characters (Clarence, Teddy, Essie, and Clark). Through following the family for over eighty years Updike paints with a fine brush America in through the twentieth century. The two main focal threads of the novel are film and Christianity. Updike also explores other themes such as the evolution of the communist threat in America, the erosion of traditional values, and like most other books of this vane, a disench ...more
Thomas Walsh
When I read some books, I think: "Where was I when this was published and why didn't I read it?" This novel is one of them. I have read Updike through the New Yorker short stories, passed "The Centaur" into the "Rabbit Series" and "Beck Novels", "Couples" and "A Month of Sundays." So where was this one in my reading travels? It was cited in a recent "Guardian" article and the title popped out to me! It's his 17th novel, published in 1996. The plot concerns generations of men, and their response ...more
Jun 14, 2014 Peter rated it really liked it
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.
Geo Forman
Mar 14, 2015 Geo Forman rated it it was ok
Not sure why I liked the book. I can only say Updike made me "know" the characters. This is a 4 generation story beginning in early 20th century America. A preacher feels his faith is slipping and one day, in the middle of his sermon, he can no longer make any sound come out of his mouth feeling his hypocrisy. His wife soon realizes what is happening and leaves her seat to lead the congregation to the completion of services. The preacher never returns to his pulpit and subjects his family to nea ...more
Michael Holbrook
Jun 09, 2015 Michael Holbrook rated it really liked it
A sweeping, multi-generational tale. This is a solid, detailed read, but be forewarned. The first 20 or so pages had me wanting to yank my eyes right of my head. Filled with overly-descriptive sentences and a tad of purple prose. Think 180 degrees from Hemmingway. In fact, after reading this book I began wondering if the two authors met or got along with one another. But I digress (Updike is rubbing off on me.)

So, get past the scene setting first chapter or so and you'll eventually be caught up
Dec 25, 2015 Keith rated it really liked it
Shelves: novel
In the Beauty of the Lilies is a multi-generational novel of one family’s relationship to religion through four generations and most of the 20th century.
Clarence Wilmot is a middle aged Presbyterian minister in Paterson, New Jersey, with a wife and three children in 1910. Like many other men of the cloth, he was not so much called to the avocation as he slid into it at the behest of his father, and became a product of Princeton’s seminary. He is well loved and respected in his parish. Then one d
May 29, 2014 Sally rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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...
John Tranchese
Jan 02, 2016 John Tranchese rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Updike chimes in with his efforts to create "The Great AMERICAN NOVEL." The Lillies are the composite of three generations of the Wilmot's family tree and their trials and tribulations throughout life. It's interesting how contemporary issues, occurrences and factual data are conveniently reformulated and contrived in the fictional drama. I found this to be an engrossing read up to and untill the antics characterizing Essie's and her son Slick's family chapter. Maybe Updike's reconstruction of t ...more
Cathy Douglas
Jan 25, 2013 Cathy Douglas rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-other, 2013
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Della Scott
Mar 20, 2013 Della Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 12, 2010 Andrew rated it liked it
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
Aug 22, 2011 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 29, 2012 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, own-it
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
Apr 29, 2015 Jakki rated it liked it
An eloquently written book with well developed and complicated characters. Each sentence was so rich in description it took a long time to get through the book!

The story itself was sad and didn't leave me feeling uplifted. Yet the reality of how a parent's decision can effect the entire family is timeless and that theme was thoroughly played out.

Phil Koehler
Aug 26, 2008 Phil Koehler rated it really liked it
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
Jul 30, 2011 Alan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 04, 2014 Hans Becklin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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.
Cathleen C
Jan 21, 2016 Cathleen C rated it it was ok
slow and dragging and really could not see where the book was going. i liked the glimpse into early Paterson NJ, some of the mid 20th century way of life in rural Delaware, and blowing up the mad man's complex. otherwise, it took me forever to read, just could not keep my interest.
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
Daniel Trejo
Jan 07, 2015 Daniel Trejo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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John Hoyer Updike 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 his careful craftsmanship and prolific writing, havin ...more
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“This life is the one to be lived now, that much is crystal-clear. What did Thoreau supposedly say—‘One world at a time’?” 1 likes
“I never heard enough damnation from your pulpit. Many mornings I had to strain to take hold of what you were saying, Reverend. I couldn't figure it out, and got dizzy listening, the way you were dodging here and there. A lot of talk about compassion for the less fortunate, I remember that. Never a healthy sign, to my way of thinking, too much fuss and feathers about the poor. They're with us always, the Lord Himself said. Wait till the next go-around, if the poor feel so sorry for themselves on this. The first shall be last. Take away damnation, in my opinion, a man might as well be an atheist. A God that can't damn a body to an eternal Hell can't lift a body up out of the grave either.” 0 likes
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