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In the Beauty of the Lilies: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

John Updike
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $11.74
You Save: $4.26 (27%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

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.

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: 1600 KB
  • Print Length: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (July 22, 2009)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #512,516 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A flawed masterpiece with an epic and troubling vision January 26, 1999
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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66 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book that's Better Than Therapy January 23, 1998
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
4.0 out of 5 stars One family's relationship with God and Hollywood October 30, 2001
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favorites
A great read as pure entertainment. But if you are having doubts in your faith, you'll find it very intriguing.
Published 10 days ago by Barbarosa
4.0 out of 5 stars Stick With 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. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Michael Holbrook
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting story
A interesting tale of a family through several generations of life. The ending was sudden and could have been better. A good book but not one of his best.
Published 6 months ago by John N. Esau
3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult read
The syntax and verbage was overly elaborate and stilted. It was a hard read but still had some entertainment value
Published 8 months ago by Tim N. Gurley
5.0 out of 5 stars Read John Updike
Updike. A classic. What can I say.
Published 8 months ago by sinlove
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful writing
This novel is so well written, I never finish reading it. I have to put it down and be amazed, The characters are so well developed, even if the time period is not your cup of tea... Read more
Published 9 months ago by B.Friendly
5.0 out of 5 stars First Dance with Updike
In the Beauty of the Lilies was my first exposure to Updike. I found an old copy at a used bookstore tucked away in a back corner. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Daniel S. Douglas
3.0 out of 5 stars The Decline of Man
Beginning circa 1910 and ending in 1990, this book is a tale of four generations of the Wilmot family. From NJ, to Delaware to Hollywood to Colorado. Read more
Published 16 months ago by BrokenArrow
4.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected.
After a slow start, I couldn't put it down.
I have read Updike before, however I forgot
how well he writes.
Published 22 months ago by Patricia Hollenbach
1.0 out of 5 stars Not worth it
Have read much better fiction. My first Updike novel and did not like it at all. I love fiction that tells a family story with a historical backdrop. I'll try something else.
Published 22 months ago by HSB
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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.

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