John Updike's latest novel (Knopf; 491 pages; $25.95) covers a whopping 80 years and four generations of a single American family. In his mid-60s, Updike has set off on what is, for his career, the equivalent of an experimental novel. Updike uses overarching themes to bind up the threads of his lengthy story: the decline of religious faith and the corresponding rise of the movies. "The novel's central thesis--that movie theaters have become modern America's houses of worship--is never really demonstrated in action," notes TIME's Paul Gray. "It is fascinating to watch a writer of Updike's dexterity cram and mold some tremendously diverse material into a single book. He renders, as tellingly as ever, the magic of individual moments. But for all its author's labors toward unity, In the Beauty of the Lilies remains an assemblage of separate and unequally inspired fragments."