March 28th, 2012


Book Review: Good Faith, by Jane Smiley

Greed and betrayal in the real estate boom of the 1980s.

Good Faith

Knopf, 2003, 432 pages

Jane Smiley brings her extraordinary gifts, comic timing, empathy, emotional wisdom, an ability to deliver slyly on big themes and capture the American spirit, to the seductive, wishful, wistful world of real estate, in which the sport of choice is the mind game. Her funny and moving new novel is about what happens when the American Dream morphs into a seven-figure American Fantasy.

Joe Stratford is someone you like at once. He makes an honest living helping nice people buy and sell nice houses. His not-very-amicable divorce is finally settled, and he's ready to begin again. It's 1982. He is pretty happy, pretty satisfied. But a different era has dawned; Joe's new friend, Marcus Burns from New York, seems to be suggesting that the old rules are ready to be repealed, that now is the time you can get rich quick. Really rich. And Marcus not only knows that everyone is going to get rich, he knows how. Because Marcus just quit a job with the IRS.

But is Joe ready for the kind of success Marcus promises he can deliver? And what's the real scoop on Salt Key Farm? Is this really the development opportunity of a lifetime?

And then there's Felicity Ornquist, the lovely, feisty, winning (and married) daughter of Joe's mentor and business partner. She has finally owned up to her feelings for Joe: she's just been waiting for him to be available.

The question Joe asks himself, over and over, is: Does he have the gumption? Does he have the smarts and the imagination and the staying power to pay attention, to Marcus and to Felicity, and reap the rewards?

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Verdict: Great writers don't always write great books. There is nothing about Good Faith I can call "bad," and evaluated purely for its craftsmanship, it's a fine novel. It just bored me. I'm sure it's someone's favorite, but I have a hard time imagining anyone falling in love with this book, frankly. Maybe someone who's really fascinated by social hijinks framed within 1980s real estate deals.

Also by Jane Smiley: My review of Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel.

My complete list of book reviews.