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Good Faith [Paperback]

Jane Smiley
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 11 2004
Greed. Envy. Sex. Property. In her subversively funny and genuinely moving new novel, Jane Smiley nails down several American obsessions with the expertise of a master carpenter.

Forthright, likable Joe Stratford is the kind of local businessman everybody trusts, for good reason. But it’s 1982, and even in Joe’s small town, values are in upheaval: not just property values, either. Enter Marcus Burns, a would-be master of the universe whose years with the IRS have taught him which rules are meant to be broken. Before long he and Joe are new best friends—and partners in an investment venture so complex that no one may ever understand it. Add to this Joe’s roller coaster affair with his mentor’s married daughter. The result is as suspenseful and entertaining as any of Jane Smiley’s fiction.

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From Amazon

Opening a Jane Smiley novel is like slipping into a warm bath. Here are people we know, places where we grew up. But the comforting, unassuming tone of her work allows Smiley incredible latitude as a writer, and her books are full of surprises. Good Faith, a novel about greed and self-delusion set in the economic boom of the early 1980s, is no exception. Joe Stratford is an amiable, divorced real estate agent in an unspoiled small town called Rollins Hills. He takes it in stride when a married female friend pursues a love affair with him; he is more suspicious when a high-rolling newcomer named Marcus Burns begins to influence the business affairs of the men closest to Joe. Nevertheless, the promise of easy riches draws Joe into one of Burns's real estate development schemes, and then, ominously, into gold trading. The steps by which a nice guy can be lured into betraying his principles are delineated so sharply in Good Faith that you wonder how Joe cannot see them. Although he never quite manages to understand what has happened to him, he's granted a moment of grace at the close of the novel, a second chance that has nothing to do with money, ambition, or the tarnished American Dream. Since we live with the legacy of the self-serving 1980s, Smiley's novel seems as timely as if it were set in the present. Penetrating, readable fiction by one of our best writers and social critics. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Smiley's range as a writer is always surprising. Eschewing both the tragic dimension of A Thousand Acres and the satiric glee of Moo, her 12th book is a clever and entertaining cautionary tale about America's greedy decade of the 1980s. Narrator Joe Stratford is a genial, well-liked realtor in a small New England town who's respected for his honesty; even his divorce was friendly. When smooth-talking Marcus Burns comes to town, fresh from a decade working at the IRS, where he's learned how to manipulate the law to avoid paying taxes, he convinces Joe and other decent but na‹ve people that it's never been easier to get rich quick. Marcus envisions a multi-use golf club and housing development. With the help of the conniving president of the local S&L, he easily finds money to purchase Salt Key Farm, a beautiful estate on 580 acres. The reader knows that the bubble will burst, but not how or when; frissons of suspense keep building as Smiley describes the fine points of land assessment, soil evaluation, loan applications and permit hearings in surprisingly riveting detail. Joe's personal life, too, is a tightrope walk. He's having an affair with a married woman, Felicity Baldwin, the daughter of his mentor, Gordon. When that cools, he takes up with another woman who seems perfect, but who turns out to be as devious as Marcus. What makes the story beguiling is Smiley's appreciation of the varieties and frailties of human nature. Every character here is fresh and fully dimensional, and anybody who lived through the '80s will recognize them-and maybe themselves.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars beautiful bits, but boring overall July 8 2004
By david
I, too, am a Smiley fan: the Age of Grief is spectacular (and Moo hilarious), and this book started along similarly spare, beautiful lines. And the goal: to probe big issues of trust, infidelity (as always, with her), and business through reallllly small time real estate in northern PA - it's a noble one.
It seemed like she got the details right, and Joe, her flat, dull, straightforward hero, was to me at her most engaging when he talked about the random sales he was making at the beginning of the book. My two largest problems:
- too talky. The whole thing is dialogue, essentially, and dialogue ultimately about a particular real estate transaction in far too much detail. We're supposed to get the hang of Marcus (the interloping deal-crazy source of action) and Joe through their talk, but it's just talk, no distinctive voices, no distinctive observations, long paragraphs, etc. The exception here is Felicity, the temptress, but her sing-songy weirdness was, though distinctive, not very plausible. Or alluring.
- too flat. Exhibit A here is all the attention given to food. The food's always boring. It's burgers and fries and other sandwiches and potato chips. And yet people are always going to eat, where they can have long, long conversations over uninteresting, uninterestingly described food, which nonetheless earns pages of copy.
So in the end, I stopped caring. I did finish the book, and good on Jane Smiley for putting me in a world, and engaging difficult issues, but this book should have been more written. And shorter.
Three stars, though, only because I hold her to very high standards. You won't feel like someone stole your time if you read this.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not Pulitzer prize material. Feb. 4 2004
By algo41
Good Faith seems to have started out as a social novel, attempting to capture the spirit of America as it led to the savings and loan debacle of the 80's. Along the way it was hijacked by the character of Marcus Burns, visionary, manipulator, master of the new thinking. This could have been a good thing, and certainly Marcus is original, but I found him a bit over the top; also, you never see him from the inside, revealing as some of his conversations are. Smiley is very interested in family and siblings, Good Faith is no exception, and certainly there is a lot to like here. Another focus of the book are the love affairs of the narrator, Joe Stratford, and Smiley does a very good job with the "action". To my taste, however, Smiley seems to too content to make Joe's lovers interesting people rather than interesting, nuanced characters. While Smiley does not devote a lot of time to Joe's parents, religious fundamentalists who live what they believe, I found them surprisingly refreshing. Good Faith is not Pulitzer prize winning material.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Has anyone noticed......???? Nov. 14 2003
I am listening to this book on tape. The reader is the incomparable Richard Poe, whose voice is like hot fudge over Hagendaas ice cream. The writing is sublime, the reader is divine; what more could one ask for? Except....this book sounds like, reads like, A CLONE OF RICHARD FORD'S (another Pulitzer recipient) "INDEPENDENCE DAY" as read, yes, by Richard Poe (for Recorded Books, Inc.). Hello! I mean, it's as if Smiley read Ford's book and just decided to keep it going...real estate, sex, family stuff, and funny riffs on the "wisdom" of the real estate world and the amusing, sometimes irritating, sometimes adorable people who...people it. Maybe these two literary stars wrote their books in complete vacuums. Obviously, they must have. But "Faith" is like Ford's Book continued. Even descriptions of characters are very similar, as well as names. And believe me, I don't have a problem with that. What a blast, getting to listen to a slightly different take on my first favorite book. Ford's is more compassionate, humane, loving. His character Frank Bascomb is one of the dearest characters in all of literature, and as a writer I was hugely inspired by his writing. I think the world of Smiley, too, but this is an incredible coincidence. Did reading "Independence Day" make her rush to her computer, as I did? I know there was a temptation for me to write like Richard Ford...but I resisted it and thank goodness the book I was writing is my very own, for better or worse. Still, it got me going, as great lit often does. Anyway, I just thought I'd put it out there and see if anyone else had the same reaction to "Good Faith." I haven't finished the book, so I'll write a more thorough review when I'm finished, and perhaps my take on it will change somewhat. But darn, if this doesn't sound like ACT TWO of "Independence Day."
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5.0 out of 5 stars better than Moo, on par with A Thousand Acres Aug. 1 2003
By A Customer
Jane Smiley tackles different material with almost every novel. Her Pulitzer-winning novel A Thousand Acres was a deft portayal of the demise of a family farm, her last effort explored the world of horse racing, and now she brings us into the 1980s world of real estate development in Good Faith. While her novels are captivating cultural history, it's her characters that remain her strength.
I know Joe. Sure, my friend isn't named Joe and isn't a real estate agent, but I know decent people like Joe who have a gift for the largely unrecognized jobs they do and who realize, at some point, that they're doing pretty well financially. In fact, recent polls suggest the vast majority of us, even those who are statistically lower class or in the upper percetages of incomes consider ourselves middle class but still not as well off as our friends. And I know a Marcus, too, who's a smooth-talking, good-natured fellow who inspires loyalty in people for no logical reason. And I know a Felicity or two who married because nearly everyone does but who doesn't quite fit the frat house her homelife seems to be. I know a few Betty and Gordon couples and the Davids as well. So, Smiley's characters have a vague familiarity, even as they each are distinct and engaging.
Even more importantly, Smiley understands the small, odd traits that people find attractive or off-putting in each other. When, for instance, Felicity reveals that she's not kind but that she is affectionate, we understand something about human behavior that we hadn't quite noticed before. Little moments like this one drive the novel seemingly effortlessly.
While I had no knowledge of and little interest in real estate, the characters and the impending demise or success of their business dealings drew me in.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow but not bad
The author makes a dull subject into an interesting story. Ms Smiley knows how to build an exciting plot with a soft touch of the inevitable and surprises. Read more
Published on Sept. 28 2007 by Toni Osborne
3.0 out of 5 stars disappointed
I finish 99 percent of the books I read if only out of vanity. This one I didn't even skim to the end to see if it got better. Read more
Published on May 23 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars ignore the doubters!
I am surprised that many of the reviews for this book are so lukewarm. I adored it, as did my father, sister and brother-in-law, whose collective reading tastes range from Tacitus... Read more
Published on April 11 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Another view
I agree with a lot of the positive aspects of Good Faith, as pointed out in many of its reviews, so I won't go into that. Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2004 by Kathleen West
5.0 out of 5 stars good faith
Published on Nov. 12 2003
2.0 out of 5 stars Hoping for another great Smiley Novel
After reading "Horse Heaven" and loving every minute, I have been anxiously awaiting Ms. Smiley's newest novel. Read more
Published on Sept. 10 2003 by Lynne Himelstein
1.0 out of 5 stars You can't make Realtors exciting
Wow, a story about Realtors, developers, and Accountants and it is dull. Who would have guessed! Even the sex is dull! The book makes the S & L crisis dull. Read more
Published on July 24 2003 by C. Sessions
1.0 out of 5 stars You can't make Realtors exciting
Wow, a story about Realtors, developers, and Accountants and it is dull. Who would have guessed! Even the sex is dull! The book makes the S & L crisis dull. Read more
Published on July 24 2003 by C. Sessions
4.0 out of 5 stars real estate and sex, what a combination!
Good Faith is the new novel by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley (A Thousand Acres). Thus far, ever novel I have read by Jane Smiley (four) has been very good. Read more
Published on June 30 2003 by Joe Sherry
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