In the Beauty of the Lilies: A Novel
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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 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.
worn by the workers, red flags were waved. Five weeks after the abortive Flag Day, the American Federation of Labor, a relatively conservative trade union that had already enlisted the well-paid, anti-strike loom-fixers, twisters, and warpers, sent John Golden to seduce the strikers away from the socialist IWW, but his scheduled meeting at the Fifth Regiment Armory was swamped by heckling Wobblies waving their red handkerchiefs and their little red books of membership. The strikers’ days were
sight before coming back dressed in her nightie. “Well, she solemnly maintains that, ever since Horace”—Mother hesitated; Uncle Horace had run away, a few years ago, with another Basingstoke woman—“did his unforgivable deed, she’s rattling around in that place and would like nothing better than if we would come stay with her for a time, until we can find a place of our own. Everything costs less down there, and it would be so healthy for little Teddy to get away from the mills and the rough
and chuckling in the gutter she would crouch there where her window above the radiator was open enough to admit the tingle of it, the woolly smell of it like a big soft not very dangerous animal turning around outside, while she was safe inside. It was not raining enough that she needed to dart from doorway to doorway; she walked along with her head high like Mr. Josephs said, dreaming, enjoying her awareness of the day, the way it had jumped ahead two hours while she was hidden in the movie
delegation of Roosevelt’s former Army Rough Riders. As his escort proceeded up Broadway, a shower of ticker tape fell from the skyscrapers of the financial district—an unprecedented display of enthusiasm. Of the present chief executive there was little notice save four lines stating that President Taft had signed the railroad bill but did not sign the statehood bill, mention that all the Taft family was headed for New Haven to be present at the graduation from Yale of young Robert A. Taft, and a
attractiveness that was mixed up with power, with the ease with which they moved in the world, and on this scale Uncle Peter was about a six. “And how is my knockout niece, Basingstoke’s answer to Claudette Colbert?” It dated him, that he thought of this star, though perhaps there was a resemblance. Lauren Bacall would have been more flattering, if he ever went to the movies. He and Aunt Esther spent most of their weekends at their country club, playing golf or tennis doubles and having dinner