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In The Beauty Of The Lilies

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  1,772 ratings  ·  183 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.
Published April 25th 1996 by Hamish Hamilton Ltd (first published 1996)
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Average rating 3.72  · 
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Feb 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 25, 2007 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 ...more
Carol Storm
Apr 11, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Drab and draggy, doomy and gloomy, sickeningly sentimental about some groups and viciously biased towards others, Updike's epic novel of American decay is a soggy mess from start to finish.

There's loads of boring-ass trivia, but nothing feels authentic. Characters shift their speech patterns and attitudes practically in mid-sentence. (Tough working men use Harvard vocabulary, and Bible-quoting fanatics suddenly drop into Valley Girl slang. And people in 1913 sound an awful like they learned
Dec 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A door stopper of a book that I kept ploughing through as the author was none other than John Updike (branding helps!); and after ploughing through the first 50 pages, I’m glad I stayed.

The novel covers four generations and the middle 80 years of the 20th century in America. Patriarch Clarence Wilmot is a Presbyterian minister who loses his faith, follows his conscience, leaves the ministry and plunges into a hardscrabble life of odd jobs, impoverishing his family. Son Teddy seeks safety, will
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
Updike relays the story of the 20th century and the progressive degradation of our society In the Beauty of the Lilies through 4 generations of the Wilmot family. Clarence, a Presbyterian minister who realizes he lost his faith. Teddy, Clarence’s son, who becomes a postmaster and never finds faith in his life. Essie, Teddy’s daughter, who becomes a famous movie star and has only a tenuous, weak faith, and then Essie’s son Clark who lives a joyless Hollywood life then joins a radical religious ...more
Bri | bribooks
What an experience! In the Beauty of the Lillies is an expansive exploration of four generations of an American family; the story takes place over the space of eighty years. In doing so John Updike has created a sort of modern American history in miniature, with a focus on two modern American vices: religion, and film. Updike writes of both subjects with clarity and conviction, often weaving the two organically in and out of the plot as needed.

This was my first Updike novel, and I wasn’t sure
Feb 23, 2009 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
Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Nov 30, 2009 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, ...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
Harry Ramble
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was my second time through In The Beauty Of The Lilies. I read it when it came out in 1996 and I knew I'd get to it again. Updike wrote it when he was 64 and it was the last book he'd write at the height of his creative and observational powers. The literary world had just finished bestowing a heap of medals and awards on the concluding book of the Rabbit series (Rabbit At Rest, 1990) and seemed in a hurry to move on from Updike in 1996, so this to me feels like his most underrated book. ...more
Stephen Hoogerhyde
This novel was written by Updike late in his career, and it just might now be my favorite of his. It is certainly one of his longest novels.

The novel tells the story of four generations of the Wilmot family; each section of the book focuses on one generation, and one character in particular. The first section focuses on Clarence Wilmot, a Presbyterian pastor in Paterson, NJ who has just lost his faith. This section was particularly interesting to me since it is filled with references to Paterson
J. Alfred
Dec 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a novel that changes the way you think about novels. It doesn't have a plot, exactly, but it will give you breathing characters that you won't forget in a hurry, and presented in such a way that plot itself seems sort of minor and uninteresting. I can't think of anything to compare it to except maybe Butler's The Way of All Flesh, and it's significantly better than that.
It's the story of four generations in the same family, and it does nothing less than give its readers a sketchy
J. Jones
Sep 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully and honestly written.
Jee Koh
Aug 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...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
F. Pat
May 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Cameron Bradford
Sep 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't finish it. Just too much on religion. I tried the first 100 pages and decided to move on. I feel a little guilty because he's a good writer but I just wasn't interested in a preacher losing his faith and all the conversations that involved.
Martin Gordon
Aug 28, 2016 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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Updike is Updike,and therefore worthy. But this isn't the right book for me at this time. It's huge and stuffy, not what I need. So... returning it to the library and turning my attention elsewhere.
Taylor Franks
Aug 01, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Tripp and Jon Lee
Recommended to Taylor by: Chelsey
This was an epic novel spanning four generations of a family. John Updike is a master of details. One part of the book took place on East 50th where we live. It covers all the bases of emotion from the unbelief of a minister to the allure of Hollywood, the emptiness of drugs, and so on.
Cathleen C
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.
Catherine O'Sullivan
May 31, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2012
Well, this was absolutely atrocious but at least I know now who won the World Series every year from 1915 up until the '80s. Updike strains so hard to write The Great American Novel that it comes across as written by somebody who never set foot in the USA.
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book took me forever to get through. Partly due to things I've had going on, but mostly because there is no hook and nothing much actually happens for the first 300 pages.
Friendly John
My love for John Updike has been under constant attack lately. So much so, it has forced me to trace my connection/discovery to his work. Not so difficult. Walked into unnameable books bookstore and spoke to a stringy man at the counter with metallica hair and coke bottle thick specs on. I asked him something embarrassing like, here is what I've read so far that I like (probably stienbeck and eggers), and then he recommended the Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker. Of course, there was some mention of ...more
Arnold Baruch
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was this book, I think, that partly guided my approach to my own novel – and at the same continually reminds me of my limitations. See, I wrote a book that traverses the 20th century too, almost exactly the same time span as In The Beauty of The Lilies. I will never approach the descriptive mastery of Mr. Updike, but neither will you. Or my cousin Morris, who writes code or something. On the other hand, I'm funnier than Updike. When's the last time you wrote LOL in the margin of an Updike ...more
T.L. Cooper
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the Beauty of the Lilies by John Updike explores ideology and the intense effects of releasing beliefs as well as clinging to them. Updike drops the reader into the life of the Wilmot family and follows the family through four generations of belief and life demonstrating the strong effects of society on belief and belief on society. In the Beauty of the Lilies pulled me into the middle of the Wilmot family making me feel invested in their decisions even when I didn't particularly like a ...more
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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, ...more
“This life is the one to be lived now, that much is crystal-clear. What did Thoreau supposedly say—‘One world at a time’?” 3 likes
“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
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