In this poignant and well-orchestrated novel, the author covers 80 years and four generations in the life of an American family. It begins in 1910 when Clarence Wilmot, a Presbyterian minister, loses his faith in God. He resigns his position and becomes a lowly encyclopedia salesman. As as result, Clarence's son Teddy turns into a cautious and timid man who settles down in a small Delaware town, marries, and becomes a postman. While his siblings kick and fret at their destiny, his daughter Essie grows up to become Alma DeMott, a 1950s movie and television star. Her wayward son Clark eventually joins a Colorado survivalist cult led by a messianic wacko. In masterful strokes, John Updike shows how religion, the movies, and cults all hijack individuals from everyday reality with the promise of something transcendent. The real hero here is Teddy who finds meaning in the here-and-now.