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John Updike's seventeenth vel begins in 1910, and traces God's relation to four generations of an American family, beginning with Clarence Wilmot, a Presbyterian clergyman in Paterson, New Jersey. He loses his faith, and becomes an encyclopedia salesman and a motion-picture addict. The remainder of Clarence's family moves to the small town of Basingstoke, Delaware, where his cautious son, Teddy, becomes a mailman. Faithless himself, Teddy marries a good Methodist girl and begets Esther, whose prayers are always answered; she becomes an object of worship, a twentieth-century goddess. Her neglected son, Clark, makes his way back to the fiery fundamentals of Protestant piety. The vel ends in 1990, in Lower Branch, Colorado, and on television. Taking its title from the Battle-Hymn of the Republic, In the Beauty of the Lilies spins one saga, one wandering tapestry thread, of the American Century.
John Updike was born in Shillington, Pennsylvania, in 1932. 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. His novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Foundation Award, and the William Dean Howells Medal. In 2007 he received the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. John Updike died in January 2009.