In the Beauty of the Lilies

In the Beauty of the Lilies

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by John Updike
     
 

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In the Beauty of the Lilies begins in 1910 and traces God’s relation to four generations of American seekers, beginning with Clarence Wilmot, a clergyman in Paterson, New Jersey. He loses his faith but finds solace at the movies, respite from “the bleak facts of life, his life, gutted by God’s withdrawal.” His son, Teddy, becomes a

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Overview

In the Beauty of the Lilies begins in 1910 and traces God’s relation to four generations of American seekers, beginning with Clarence Wilmot, a clergyman in Paterson, New Jersey. He loses his faith but finds solace at the movies, respite from “the bleak facts of life, his life, gutted by God’s withdrawal.” His son, Teddy, becomes a mailman who retreats from American exceptionalism, religious and otherwise, into a life of studied ordinariness. Teddy has a daughter, Esther, who becomes a movie star, an object of worship, an All-American goddess. Her neglected son, Clark, is possessed of a native Christian fervor that brings the story full circle: in the late 1980s he joins a Colorado sect called the Temple, a handful of “God’s elect” hastening the day of reckoning. In following the Wilmots’ collective search for transcendence, John Updike pulls one wandering thread from the tapestry of the American Century and writes perhaps the greatest of his later novels.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Dazzling . . . a book that forces us to reassess the American Dream and the crucial role that faith (and the longing for faith) have played in shaping the national soul.”—The New York Times
 
“Stirring and captivating and beautifully written . . . This is the Updike of the Rabbit books, who can take you uphill and down with his grace of vision, his gossamer language, and his merciful, ironic glance at the misery of the human condition.”—The Boston Globe

“Updike’s genius, his place beside Hawthorne and Nabokov have never been more assured.”—George Steiner, The New Yorker
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The spiritual and sexual malaise of a multigenerational American family is the focus of Updike's masterful novel, a six-week PW bestseller. (Jan.)
Library Journal
An elder statesman of American letters here tells of four generations of Wilmots, who run the gamut from preacher to encyclopedia salesman to movie star.
Jim Paul
John Updike's seventeenth novel is a sprawling family saga that traces four generations of the God-struck Wilmot clan. Late in his career, Clarence Wilmot, a Presbyterian minister, suddenly loses his faith in God. Clarence's principled resignation from his ministry plunges his family into poverty, and he is reduced to selling encyclopedias door-to-door and going to movie matinees for comfort. His son, Teddy, having witnessed his father's failure, rejects God as well and lives out a cautious existence as a mailman in a small town in Delaware. In the book's third section, Teddy's daughter Essie, raised in small-town security and love, full of "this joy at being herself instead of somebody else," feels inexplicably bound to both God and the movies, and she grows up to become a movie star in the Clark Gable-Gary Cooper era. And Updike brings this novel's interrogation of faith full circle when Essie's troubled son, Clark, ultimately flees L.A., joins a Christian cult in Colorado, and is killed in a thinly-fictionalized version of the Branch Davidian debacle.

Updike seems utterly at home in the first half of In the Beauty of the Lilies --the title is taken from The Battle Hymn of the Republic -- describing the daily round of middle class life in the early part of this century. His filigreed style, best suited to set-piece description and slow character development, is often reminiscent here of American naturalists such as Wharton, Howells or Dreiser, who took for their canvas society as a whole and for their subject, the subtle, mostly psychological crystallization of an individual's fate. In Clarence's fall from grace and especially in his son's consequent habitual timidity, Updike finds suitable subjects, characters who meditate on "the bowfront sideboard with its flaking veneer of curly cherry."

But as the book proceeds toward the final part of the century, Updike seems at sea in the world of condoms and Uzis and soundbytes. The cult's beliefs and Clark's submission to Jesse, the group's David Koresh-like leader, are unconvincing, and the conversion itself is passed over. "Clark could not remember when he had decided to believe in Jesse," Updike writes. "The big man had just stepped into him like a drifter taking over an empty shack." Compared with Updike's almost Jamesian delineating of Clark's great-father's loss of faith, this evasion at the end leaves a reader wondering whether Updike's heart is still in the book, and whether he can manage to care about these contemporary characters. --Salonl

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780449911211
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/28/1997
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
576
Sales rank:
298,289
Product dimensions:
5.45(w) x 8.23(h) x 1.21(d)

What People are saying about this

Michiko Katukani
In the Beauty of the Lilies. . .[is] arguably [Updike's] finest: a big, generous book, narrated with Godlike omniscience and authority and populated by a wonderfully vivid cast of dreamers, wimps, social climbers, crackpots and lost souls. . . .While seamlessly weaving the private travails of his characters into the public tapestry of history, Mr. Updike has also managed to endow them with a genuine sense of familial history. . . .Mr. Updike has written an important and impressive novel: a novel that not only shows how we live today, but also how we got there. -- The New York Times
From the Publisher
“Dazzling . . . a book that forces us to reassess the American Dream and the crucial role that faith (and the longing for faith) have played in shaping the national soul.”—The New York Times
 
“Stirring and captivating and beautifully written . . . This is the Updike of the Rabbit books, who can take you uphill and down with his grace of vision, his gossamer language, and his merciful, ironic glance at the misery of the human condition.”—The Boston Globe

“Updike’s genius, his place beside Hawthorne and Nabokov have never been more assured.”—George Steiner, The New Yorker

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Meet the Author

John Updike was born in Shillington, Pennsylvania, in 1932. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954 and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker. His novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Foundation Award, and the William Dean Howells Medal. In 2007 he received the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. John Updike died in January 2009.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
March 18, 1932
Date of Death:
January 27, 2009
Place of Birth:
Shillington, Pennsylvania
Place of Death:
Beverly Farms, MA
Education:
A.B. in English, Harvard University, 1954; also studied at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford, England

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In the Beauty of the Lilies 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully and eloquently written. A bit slow at times, but coming together in the end. A pleasure to read a book with such lovely use of language.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Of course, if you are gaga about John Updike, you'll probably love this book. This one's filled with over-the-top characters doing, thinking or saying absurd things (more and more as the pages go by). It's colorful and fun to read. But... don't expect your life to be changed. It's kind of like reading that inside back page of a magazine that features some funny story or opinion or parting shot. It's fluffy and amusing. Then you want to go brush your teeth.