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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 Slow but not bad Sept. 28 2007
By Toni Osborne TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
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. The main character Joe is likable and realistic, a simple man one that most readers would like, of course some may take issue to his cocaine use and extra marital affairs, a spin that made this story enjoyable to read in my view.
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3.0 out of 5 stars beautiful bits, but boring overall July 8 2004
By david
Format:Paperback
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 disappointed May 23 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
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. The excerpt I read on Amazon was promising enough for me to buy the book. I am also a Smiley fan and have read and enjoyed most of her books. And I don't mind reading a novel about real estate in the 80's, although I was quite young then. I would read a book by Smiley about filing tax returns, at least I would give it a decent chance before puttting it aside.
This book was just - dull. It made no impression on me, except that I could think of half a dozen things I'd rather be doing. I didn't even care enough to hate it or get angry that it had wasted my time.
The three stars are because Smiley on a bad day still writes better than most writers on a good day. It's well-written just not interesting.
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5.0 out of 5 stars ignore the doubters! April 11 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
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 to Jilly Cooper and beyond. What's more it made me go back and re-read all Smiley's books in my possession and seek out the ones I hadn't already read (Moo, The Greenlanders). They are all terrific, and she certainly knocks other, more feted, American writers into a cocked hat. But whereas some of her other books contain elements which might alienate the sceptical reader (not me - I love 'em all!) - telepathic horses, campus farce, enigmatic Norsemen, coke-snorting wanabee rock stars - I honestly don't think she puts a foot wrong here. One of her most accessible novels, and I mean that in a good way. Read it, then read the rest.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not Pulitzer prize material. Feb. 4 2004
By algo41
Format:Hardcover
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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3.0 out of 5 stars Another view Jan. 6 2004
Format:Hardcover
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. I was very disappointed that Joe, without much thought, casually used cocaine when it was offerred and apparently sufferred little or no consequences or regret. Also little or no consequences or regret for his promiscuity. The story has few consequences of any of the wrongs exhibited other than foolishly lost money. I was also disappointed that the only apparent Christians are depicted as nut cases.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Has anyone noticed......????
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. Read more
Published on Nov. 14 2003 by hawthorne wood
5.0 out of 5 stars good faith
I LOVED THIS BOOK. I ESPECIALLY RELATED TO MY YEARS INTHE 80'S.JANE SMILEY CAN DO NO WRONG.
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
5.0 out of 5 stars better than Moo, on par with A Thousand Acres
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... Read more
Published on Aug. 1 2003
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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