In the Beauty of the Lilies

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Updike’s seventeenth novel traces the lives of four generations of a typical American family, the Wilmots. In four separate but carefully interwoven sections, the novelist relates the stories of Clarence Wilmot, a minister in Paterson, New Jersey, who loses his faith and is forced to eke out a living as a salesman; Teddy, his youngest child, who shuns all chance at notoriety and lives quietly as a postal carrier in Delaware; Esther, Clarence’s daughter, whose life is transformed when she embarks on a film career; and Clark, Esther’s son, who shuns the Hollywood lifestyle of his mother only to take up with a religious fanatic and die in a bloody shootout with federal authorities.

The Wilmot’s story provides the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists a chance to delve into subjects which have been of perennial interest to him and to his readers: the loss of religious faith in America, the pervasive power of motion pictures to influence both directly and indirectly the culture at large, and the enduring questions every person faces regarding choices of career and life partner. In the course of telling his story, Updike introduces a number of supporting characters who flesh out the American scene and provide yardsticks against which the successes and failures of his principal characters may be measured.

In addition to being a first-rate “chronicle novel,” IN THE BEAUTY OF THE LILIES ia a tour de force of fine writing. Updike’s skillful handling of language and his keen eye for detail merge to form one of the most evocative and nostalgic looks at the American scene as it has evolved over the turbulent twentieth century.


(The entire section is 675 words.)