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 nave 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.
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