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Good Faith Hardcover – April 22, 2003


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Product Details

  • Series: Smiley, Jane
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (April 22, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375412174
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375412172
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #796,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

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.

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Customer Reviews

I disliked every character, the plot was too real, the ending obvious.
Cheshire
I never thought I'd skip pages in a Smiley book, but the last 60 pages of this book was so dull I wanted to gnaw off my limbs.
K. Casselman
Smiley is a remarkably good craftsperson who excels at creating believable characters that interact in believable ways.
Poogy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Vincent on April 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Outrageous versatility is not something we readers look for in our favorite authors, but Jane Smiley, in book after book after book, refuses to be pinned down. She can write pathos, tragedy, slapstick, satire, mystery... Where will it end? Never and nowhere, we hope.
This is a novel about greed in the 80s, that decade when it seemed the Good Times would roll on forever. The story concerns an amiable, trusting, 'good' man who is lured down the shady paths of easy money. It's a story about principles, ambition viewed through the gauzy curtain that hides (not very well) The American Dream.
Smiley scores again.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Victoria M. Ford on June 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
My only complaint is that the book rushed itself to a conclusion. We spent hundreds of pages establishing (and destroying) relationships, exploring secrets, waiting waiting waiting for a happy ending... and the book takes care of all the open loops in the last 25 pages. Just didn't seem fair to the characters. Wouldn't they have more to say about what happens to them?

Otherwise: fun, a trip through the 80s, a reminder of how good fortune can make any of us crazy for just long enough to make a big mistake.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
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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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By K. Casselman on June 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Anyone who has read "Moo" or "A Thousand Acres" can attest to Jane Smiley's ability as a writer. Her plots are interesting, her characters enthralling and her writing as fluid as a warm country lake. "Good Faith" is a dog. An old, lazy dog. Not even Jane Smiley can turn the S&L scandal and a real estate deal into a lively, engrossing book. I never thought I'd skip pages in a Smiley book, but the last 60 pages of this book was so dull I wanted to gnaw off my limbs. The plot is hidden under a dusty quilt of minutiae and the characters are as insipid as those surrounding the Whitewater fiasco. If you haven't read Jane before -- don't read this one. Choose another because she has truly given us some of the best books ever written.
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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Grey W. Satterfield Jr. on May 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I have been an unabashed Jane Smiley fan for many years. I thought that "Moo" and "Horse Heaven" were two of the best novels of the past ten years. I am sorry I can't say that about "Good Faith." Jane Smiley is one of our best writers so it came as no surprise that this novel was well observed and crisply written. But it seemed to me that Ms. Smiley didn't have much to say. The '80s were a time in which many small time business people got in over their heads and when the bubble burst -- as bubbles inevitably must - failed, as a lot of banks and savings and loans who ill-advisedly lent them money did as well. Joe Stratford, the easygoing protagonist, is a real estate broker who goes into business with a charismatic and, as it turns out, crooked ex IRS agent, Marcus Burns. Most of the book is spent describing the details of the purchase of a large estate for development, the development itself and, finally, the crash and its aftermath. Beyond that, there was not much in "Good Faith." To me the 400 plus pages that Smiley spent on the dreary details of a business failure were hardly more interesting than the foregoing short description - that is not very interesting at all.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
I would never have guessed that the author of this novel was a woman, so completely does Smiley take us into the man's world of property speculators, businessmen, and investors. Though a man myself, it is not a milieu that especially appeals to me, and it took me 50 pages or so to feel at home in the life and work of its Realtor hero, Joe Stratford. But he is such a likeable character that I was soon turning the pages, in fascination mingled equally with amusement and dread, to find out more about his story. Nor does it hurt that Marcus Burns, the antihero, combines a boldness of vision with the charisma of a true con man, as he rides this provincial community into the boom years of the early eighties, where even the thought of money gives rise to more money. As a time-capsule of the heady excesses of an era, the novel might have been written by Tom Wolfe (BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES or A MAN IN FULL) or Jonathan Franzen (THE 27th CITY or THE CORRECTIONS).

Even the sex in the book is shown from the man's point of view. I thought this a pity, because sex too often takes the place of romance, or the mental and emotional links between two human beings. The cautionary tale of this novel, in which an amoral adventurism battles with honesty and soundness for possession of the businessman hero's soul, is apparently echoed by his relationships with the two women in his life.
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