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In the Beauty of the Lilies

3.72  ·  Rating Details ·  1,484 Ratings  ·  151 Reviews
One hot afternoon in 1910, the Reverend Clarence Wilmot, standing in the rectory of the Fourth Presbyterian Church, experiences the last vestiges of his faith departing. True to this revelation, Clarence abandons the pulpit and becomes an encyclopedia salesman. What follows is the saga of the Wilmot family, one wandering tapestry thread within the American century. This is ...more
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
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

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
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
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
F. Pat
Jun 29, 2016 F. Pat rated it it was amazing
This book begins with Mack Sennett and Mary Pickford filming a movie in Patterson, NJ. Nearby, in an instant a Presbyterian minister, Clarence Wilmot "felt the last particles of his faith leave him....God was an absurd bully, barbarically thundering through a Cosmos entirely misconceived. There is no such God, nor should there be....The clifflike riddle of predestination--how can Man have free will without impinging upon God's perfect freedom? how can God condemn Man when all actions from the al ...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
Martin Gordon
Aug 28, 2016 Martin Gordon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was four stories with the threads of time and family holding them together. Updike elaborates in fine style the landscapes and motivations of the characters. I feel a sense of accomplishment having read this insight into lives of salesmen, reverend, mailman, actress, cult preacher and those they touch.
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.
Riley Haas
Dec 15, 2016 Riley Haas rated it liked it
"Well, I like parts of this and dislike parts of it. Though I liked some of the first section, I found most of the book to be a little less than what I would have liked; Updike seems a little less perceptive, or a little less willing to go into what I'm interested in, than someone like Philip Roth. However, the last section is a significant improvement, even though I have a hard time understanding Clark's motivations. But I have to say I'm a little disappointed with it, as Updike is supposed to ...more
Jan 05, 2017 Pam rated it did not like it
I should have known I would have a hard time reading this as I didn't like the Rabbit books either.
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
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
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
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
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.
Sep 18, 2016 Candace rated it it was amazing
Agnes Kelemen
Sep 11, 2016 Agnes Kelemen rated it liked it
I would give 5 stars to the first two parts (about Clarence and Ted), 2 stars to the third part (about Essie/Alma) and 1 star to the last part (about Clark). I get the idea that family novels tend to narrate decline over the generations, but it is too much that afer so many inner theological struggles (in Clarence) the story turns into an action movie by the time of Clark. It also seems to me that John Updike is not nearly as good at writing about women's inner worlds as about men's inner worlds ...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
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
Catherine Siemann
Apr 03, 2016 Catherine Siemann rated it liked it
Portions of this book were so incredibly well-drawn; parts had me just trying to get through them but feeling there were things that had been set up to be inevitable, in a way that didn't draw me in at all.
The depictions of Paterson NJ in the early 20th c. and the small Delaware town afterwards were well-drawn and gave such an amazing sense of place. California and Colorado seemed more sketched-in.
Clarence's loss of faith was set up believably and the context of his congregation and etc. was wel
Apr 29, 2016 Robert rated it it was amazing
Since I believe that John Updike was the greatest fiction writer of the last half of the 20th century - and I have a wonderful signed first edition collection of 95% of his books, I have been slightly embarrassed that I had failed to read this book of his published 20 years ago in 1996. But BETTER LATE THAN NEVER. I was searching on for anything by Updike that I didn't have and there was a fine SIGNED copy of this book, inscribed "to Bob, Best Wishes, John Updike." I took this as ...more
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
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
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
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
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
Shelly Fromholtz
Jul 03, 2012 Shelly Fromholtz rated it it was ok
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
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Signed Copy 1 10 Aug 13, 2009 07:58AM  
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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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“Dollars had once gathered like autumn leaves on the wooden collection plates; dollars were the flourishing sign of God's specifically American favor, made manifest in the uncountable millions of Carnegie and Mellon and Henry Ford and Catholina Lambert. But amid this fabled plenty the whiff of damnation had cleared of dollars and cents the parched ground around Clarence Wilmot.” 2 likes
“This life is the one to be lived now, that much is crystal-clear. What did Thoreau supposedly say—‘One world at a time’?” 2 likes
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