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In the Beauty of the Lilies: A Novel Kindle Edition

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Length: 576 pages Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

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Editorial Reviews Review

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.

From Publishers Weekly

The spiritual and sexual malaise of a multigenerational American family is the focus of Updike's masterful novel, a six-week PW bestseller.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3857 KB
  • Print Length: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (July 22, 2009)
  • Publication Date: July 22, 2009
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #601,284 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

John Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. 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, and since 1957 lived in Massachusetts. He was the father of four children and the author of more than fifty books, including collections of short stories, poems, essays, and criticism. His novels won the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal. A previous collection of essays, Hugging the Shore, received the 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. John Updike died on January 27, 2009, at the age of 76.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Richard Briggs ( on January 26, 1999
Format: Paperback
I found the scope of Updike's vision to be quite breath-taking: twentieth century America redrawn as perhaps the saddest place on Earth to be now that none of us can any longer be quite so sure that God is in his heaven and all's right with the world. With each turn of the generations Updike turns the question slowly around: the pastor whose doubts finally surface and push him out of his job; the son who doesn't want to wade back in to the God question; the famous daughter who sees God so clearly and finds doubt a bit bemusing, but then what God is she seeing? and finally the young dropout who falls in with an apocalyptic mountainside madman with precisely the passionate commitment which the family has never had. In a sense what we have here are four strategies for 'coping' with the enormous emptiness of our modern world, and I found the closing paragraphs particularly powerful, highlighting the projection of our self-doubts and confused partial resolutions into the next generation's inevitable confrontation with these same issues. Along the way Updike keeps his eyes wide open and finds life in the details- the only place it could ever be after all.
I diasgree with some of the reviewers here who find it self-indulgent and pointless, but I do think that the four portraits lack an overall structure which might have sustained the long narrative slightly better. Yes in places we are left immersed in detail, but perhaps that's not beside the point in the end. As to faith, I don't much agree with Updike but his grasp of the issues seems to me a sure one, with the horns of the various theological dilemmas well grasped (one of his usual strengths).
A troubling novel, not for the faint-hearted.
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67 of 75 people found the following review helpful By on January 23, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book was my introduction to Updike's work, and I must say I was impressed. "In the Beauty of the Lilies", the title of which is taken from a verse in the "Battle Hymn of the Republic", is, at least superficially, an examination of the role of religion in American life. The plot spans the whole of the 20th century and chronicles the lives of four generations of the Wilmot family. The history of American film is woven into the novel and used an effective metaphor for the personal and societal upheavals that beset the characters. The reader can't help but pick up some interesting facts about the history of film, but I found that sometimes the author allowed historical details to detract from the flow of the story. It is difficult to explain the psychological subtleties of the novel without being a "spoiler". The scope of the book is not limited to organised religion per se. The book is really about the basic human need for some kind of faith or committment, be it religious or not. Updike seems to be talking about the intimate link between personal integrity and a belief in something, or someone outside of oneself. "In the Beauty of the Lilies" is a powerful allegory which helped to bring my own existential beliefs into sharper focus. Since Amazon does not welcome explicit discussion of authors themselves, I will not reveal Updikes' own metaphysical stance. (Those who are interested can do a literature search and find out for yourselves.) I was impressed, however, that the author did not allow his work to become mere propaganda for his own metaphysical beliefs. The subtlety and complexity of the book is one of its greatest strengths. The characters are well-developed and plot is engageing enought to interest even those who prefer to gloss over the philosophical aspects of the book. I welcome any email discussion from people who have already "In the Beauty of the Lilies".
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Tom Hinkle on October 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
John Updike writes a sprawling story here following one family through four generations in the twentieth century and their very different relationships with God and cinema. The patriarch, Clarence Wilmot, is a Presbyterian minister who suddenly loses his faith in God. Believing that there is no God, he quits the ministry (which, due to outside pressure, is easier said than done). Clarence's honesty, if nothing else, must be appreciated. Someone with less integrity might have stayed in the ministry and become a precursor to John Shelby Spong (sorry, had to get that in). Clarence attempts to sell encyclopedias door-to-door, but increasingly spends more time at the movie theater. Is he looking for salvation in Hollywood?
Clarence's son, Teddy, has the most ordinary story of the Wilmot clan. Unambitious, though not lazy, he is content with the quiet life of a postman in a small Delaware town. Teddy never attends church, and seems to be unreligious, yet by marrying a handicapped girl seems to display an acceptance of the disenfranchised that has a spark of Christlikeness.
The next section of the story concerns Teddy's daughter Essie, who to me is the most problematic character in this book. Essie is constantly aware of God, and indeed would not know what it was like to not believe in God. Yet Essie's narcissism and self-centeredness betrays a very shallow faith. Infatuated with herself from a young age, she grows up to be a movie star, displaying the typical "godless" lifestyle that many perceive as typical of Hollywood. Belief in God is her "secret", and she keeps it well-hidden indeed, even from her own son.
Essie (who takes the name Alma DeMott--by the way, doesn't this sound more like a name for a star of the 1920's rather than the 1950's?
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