Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In the Beauty of the Lilies

Updike, John. In the Beauty of the Lilies. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.

Plot Summary
This novel is actually four novels in one book. The novel follows four generations of a family, starting with Clarence Wilmot, a Presbyterian clergyman who loses his faith and ending with Clarence's great-grandson Clark's story that mimics the Branch Davidians in Waco.

Critical Analysis
It was hard for me to pick up this book and read. It just seemed to drag on and on and I would find myself counting the pages until the next section. My book club actually met 3 1/2 weeks ago to discuss it, and I just finished it today. Since I'd already invested so much time reading 3 of the 4 generations, I had to keep going, but it was not an easy read.

The characters are believable. Family connections are made and lost. People follow their own dreams. I never thought Updike included unreal characters. The Wilmot's family lines spread across the world and that is plausible. I liked how each book within the book followed a new generation and ties were shown to previous generations. I thought of my own family and how with each passing generation, the less we know about each other. I'm not sure if that's Updike's message to us or not.

Since I was beating the clock, so to speak, on getting this read by a deadline (even though I didn't finish the book by the deadline), I didn't mark as much in the book as I might had I enjoyed reading. I was just trying to get through it. I enjoyed reading Clarence's story (the first part of the novel). I marked several things in his story that spoke to me about my own church:
"Young members are the lifeblood of any church if it is to serve the needs of coming generations" (36) and "a church is a community whose strength lies in purity and zeal, not in its buildings" (37). I enjoyed the religious history that Clarence's story provides. There is even an allusion to Jonathan Edwards' sermon of how God holds us over the flames of hell like a spider (Updike 18).

The second story is Teddy's. This character seems too afraid to try that he just allows life to happen to him, and he is perfectly content with that. Teddy is not ambitious, but his daughter (the third book) is decidedly so. She makes things happen, moral or not.

One thing that I did mark was the title reference. Hannah, one character in the fourth section of the novel, comments, "We try to live as the lilies" (Updike 385).

This is a book that I probably will sell back to the bookstore.

No comments: