Everyone trusts Joe Stratford, the affable Pennsylvania real-estate agent who narrates Smiley's ninth novel -- his clients, his bankers, his boss, his boss's sexy married daughter, and even the irascible contractor who builds the most beautiful houses in the county. But when Marcus Burns, a charismatic I.R.S. agent turned developer, comes to town, Joe feels that no one else understands his potential the way Marcus does. With Joe as his partner, Marcus soon seduces half the county into investing in a development venture that he says will make everyone rich. It is hard to imagine a novelist better suited to taking on the S. & L. scandals of the nineteen-eighties than Smiley, who has proved herself capable of writing about corruption in wildly different stylistic and moral registers ("Thousand Acres," "Moo"). Yet Joe's sense of who he has become is oddly muffled, a quality that infects the novel as a whole -- as if the author were unable to decide what, finally, her characters are guilty of, or how hard they deserve to fall.
Jane Smiley has produced an irresistible novel of bad manners, a meditation on love and money that Jane Austen might have enjoyed, if she could have handled the sex...Smiley, the Pulitzer prizewinning author of
A Thousand Acres, knows something about land and the many ways it accrues value, sometimes just in the imagination. Her book is a wise comic tale about the ways in which money makes more substantial things-land, love, friendship-dematerialize. Time (4/21/03)
[A] lusty, testosterone-pumped tale, which both revisits Smiley's obsession with infidelity and underlines her remarkable ability to humanize an industry. We're back in the '80s here-a heady, get-rich-quick orgy of junk bonds and megadeals in which he who hesitates loses...
Good Faith has 'cautionary tale' written all over it-but you're sucked in [by] this story's power, [which] lies in the fact that it is less about lying or greed of friendship gone bad than about boldness versus caution and our American ambivalence about which is the virtue and which the vice.Daniel Jones, Elle (May, 2003)
With Jane Smiley's new novel, another prime parcel has come on to the market. There may not be a thousand acres here, but it's still a major piece of literary property. Everything about
Good Faith is in perfect move-in condition...It's a manageable size, with just a small collection of expertly drawn characters...Tightly focused on a single real estate agent in a small New England town, Good Faith displays all the remarkable attention to detail that's the hallmark of Smiley's work...There's plenty of wit here, but this is a novel of admirable restraint. She doesn't want to satirize the gassy atmosphere that inflated markets and S&Ls to the breaking point. She wants to observe the moral effect of these lavish new dreams on ordinary human beings, and she does so with captivating insight and gentleness...Smiley has invested her best talent in this work, and you can buy it in good faith. Christian Science Monitor (4/10/03)
Brilliant and versatile...Smiley has never been more seductive than in this acutely entertaining novel of big-time greed coming to a small East Coast town in the high-rolling 1980s...Smiley is fascinated by obsession and all the jargon and arcane knowledge associated with risky pursuits, and she expertly reanimates the mad and venal, not to mention illegal and disastrous, financial finagling that drove the money-mad, coked-up eighties, providing a thrilling rear-view mirror look at that notoriously covetous time. But this expertly crafted and subtly suspenseful tale is also notable for its exuberant eroticism: Smiley's sex scenes, and there are many, are truly ravishing. Booklist (starred amd boxed review)
The Penguin short biography series chose Jane Smiley to do Charles Dickens, and they were right. She is one of our most Dickensian novelists, by which I mean her imagination is prodigious, her observations exact, and the wealth of fascinating people inside her head a national treasure. In the past, she has observed her people at the racetrack, on the college campus, on the farm and in Greenland long long ago, among other places, and wherever she goes you'll want to go with her. This time, it's a small town in the mid-Atlantic states with a savings-and-loan in 1982, and you want to be there. Trust me on this. —
Donald E. Westlake
As she's done in so many of her earlier novels, Ms. Smiley conjures up her characters' daily routines with uncommon skill, delineating the tidal flow of desire, disappointment and wishful thinking that informs their domestic and business lives. She shows us Joe's relationships with his picky, demanding clients — his hopes for a sale sometimes skidding into irritation, sometimes snowballing into a run of good luck — and she shows us the unexpected evolution of his romance with Felicity, as sex turns to love and love to frustration. —
For all of her serial genre-surfing, though, Smiley has remained faithful to an ideal of sheer readability, to the Jamesian dictum that a novelist's principal task is to be ''interesting.'' Her artistry in doing so, in populating her fiction with interesting characters doing equally interesting things, is camouflaged by how easy she makes it all look. —
The New York Times Sunday Book Review
Only a writer of consummate craftsmanship and scope could write a novel about a series of real estate deals in a small town an hour and a half from New York City and make it so fully satisfying as to be thrilling. Jane Smiley has done it. —
It's 1982, and Ronald Reagan is backslapping America, assuring us that we've become at last that shining city on the hill our Pilgrim fathers foretold. And the city, of course, is made of gold. At no time since the '20s has the American Dream seemed so money-fueled, and Wall Street insider traders, yuppies and multifarious entrepreneurs are all striving merrily to realize it.
Joey Stratford wants in, too. He just doesn't know it yet. At the start of Good Faith, Smiley's remarkable twelfth novel, he's a bit of a blithe innocent. Childless, recently divorced, fortyish, he's living easy as a small-town realtor. He nurses a wistful sadness for his first true love, the daughter of his business partner, Gordon Baldwin, killed long ago in a car wreck. Otherwise, everything's going well for Joey. Still, he feels a certain restlessness. As the gleaming decade heats up, Joey's ready for a new beginning. Enter Marcus Burns, fresh from New York City, GQ-dapper and burnished with glad-handing, Tony Robbins–style confidence. Schemer, dazzler, charmer, Marcus in time will reveal himself as a Faustian tempter—and Joey's world will shake. A novelist of astonishing range, Smiley retold King Lear in her Pulitzer Prize–winning A Thousand Acres and has written about matters as diverse as horse racing ( Horse Heaven), mid-nineteenth-century prairie derring-do ( The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton) and fourteenth-century Scandinavia ( The Greenlanders). Strong narrative and realistically vulnerable characters mark her fiction, as does a wickedly funny stripe—best displayed in Moo, her academic novel set in anagricultural college. With Good Faith, she's penned a cautionary tale of the perils of capitalism, a fable reminiscent of the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Smiley shares with Fitzgerald a fascination with moneymakers—and a distaste for the ways they sometimes make it big. In Good Faith, she captures exactly the '80s zest for moneymaking, the sense that anything, fortuitously touched, can be made to glisten. Gordon, for example, is a home builder by trade, but he's also a sort of free-form capitalist. He buys and sells everything, from toilets to houses to livestock: All form part, he insists, of a joyous cycle of consuming. "One thing leads to another," he says. "Houses lead to commodes, and then commodes lead to houses, which lead to land, which leads to dairy cattle, which leads to cheese, which leads to pizza pies, which lead to manicotti and veal Parmesan, which lead to wine, which leads to love, which leads to babies, houses and commodes." Gordon's gluttonous way with money is boyish, up-front, unabashed. And it's creative; he uses cash to build and expand. Marcus, however, is the soul of pure greed—he wants money for money's sake, and by any means necessary. With his equally glossy sister, Jane, he conspires to enlist Joey and Gordon in a brilliant venture—buy up a renowned old estate and use its acreage as basis for a subdevelopment, the grandeur of which has never heretofore been imagined. The potential profits? Not millions, Marcus exults. Billions! Now Gordon's no fool, and Joey, Smiley's convincing Everyman, is, while avaricious enough, unimaginative. He may have outgrown his too-neat, single guy's condo, but he doesn't aspire to castles. Indeed, to the townsfolk, he's a regular good guy—if not quite so pious as his parents, for whom any form of keeping up with the Joneses, or overtaking them, smacks of sinful pride. In part, Joey shares their values, but he chafes at their lack of ambition. Marcus, a former IRS honcho, wins Gordon over by erasing the latter's tax problems; Joey is more cunningly seduced. Even before Marcus teases him with tickets to the big time, however, Joey has begun testing his wings by plunging into an affair with Felicity, the married sister of the girl for whom he'd mourned. That the tryst seems guilt-free doesn't bode well for Joey. And thJoey so obviously needs it underscores Marcus's gifts both for reading character and for scamming—ultimately he zeroes in on Joey's loneliness and suckers him by offering "friendship." The suspense in the novel doesn't lie in our uncovering Marcus's villainy or in waiting for the real estate speculation to explode. He's patently a slickster, and the deal screams danger. Rather, what's intriguing is the good faith that Joey and Gordon first lavish upon the suspicious stranger—trust bred of equal parts backwater naïveté and starry-eyed optimism—and our witnessing that good faith erode. When Marcus's malfeasance is at last exposed, Joey's wallet is seriously depleted. The very faith he and Gordon had offered their betrayer, Joey attempts to reason, was perhaps itself too tempting for Marcus to resist. After all, you can't fault a thief when your door is left unlocked. That "good faith" is a game for chumps is a terrible irony and the book's harsh message. With it Smiley indicts the Reagan years entire. Even while she suggests a chastened future for Joey, she neatly, wittily stifles any nostalgia for the Age of Greed. In doing so, Smiley reveals herself as one of the most traditional of novelists, one not afraid of making a point, or of ending a story with a well-found moral.
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. 200,000 first printing. (Apr. 28) Forecast: Only readers seeking the emotional wallop of A Thousand Acres will be disappointed by this lively tale, written with literary finesse. Booksellers can bet on a bestseller. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Pulitzer Prize winner Smiley once again opens a convincing fictional window on an American subculture. In her last novel, Horse Heaven, it was thoroughbred racing; this time around, it's financial speculation in the early 1980s. Successful small-town realtor Joey Stratford is divorced, at loose ends, and ready to pursue prosperity on a larger scale. New acquaintance Marcus Burns, a former IRS man lately arrived from New York, offers the chance of Joey's lifetime. The well-connected Marcus seems to know all the angles of developing and profiting massively from a fabulous local property, Salt Key Farm. Joey, at once dazzled by Marcus and distracted by an intoxicating affair with the sister of a high school sweetheart, proceeds with his investment, though he suspects that the Salt Key project may be very risky business. Marcus's schemes play out in a tragicomedy featuring a Dickensian mix of quirky characters chasing their versions of the American dream. Smiley's amusing plot is charged with energy, her sense of time and place is on target, and her research into the ways and means of real estate development is seamlessly integrated. This absorbing book will appeal to a wide variety of readers. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/02.]-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Smiley nails the Greed Decade with her trademark precision and philosophical bite. In 1982, narrator Joe Stratford is a divorced 40-year-old realtor in a part of New Jersey just beginning the transition from provincial backwater to upscale suburb. He’s a disappointment to his religious parents but "the elected son" of slightly shady developer Gordon Baldwin, whose married daughter Felicity forthrightly entices Joe into a lighthearted affair that turns serious. Into this comfortable existence blows Marcus Burns, an IRS agent turned "investment counselor" who solves Gordon’s tax problems with a phone call and immediately starts spinning grandiose plans to make big bucks developing the 580-acre estate of a wealthy elderly couple. "This is the eighties," Marcus tells a skeptical Joe. "Experience doesn’t count anymore." Marcus’s schemes get ever bigger, financed without a murmur by Portsmouth Savings, whose aggressive new president aims to swell its revenues by taking advantage of S&L deregulation, and Marcus’s sister Jane arrives to lure more capital with her knowledge of "all the new investment instruments." It’s utterly clear that Marcus is a con man, but Smiley (Horse Heaven, 2000, etc.) expertly conveys his appeal to people quietly bored with their constricted lives. "When someone like Marcus Burns comes around, it makes you realize how local you are," remarks Gordon’s ne’er-do-well younger son, one of the many characters drawn with Smiley’s customary incisiveness. Marcus is the most compelling, despicable yet oddly vulnerable, tapping spookily into other people’s personal longings. As Joe is drawn into his scams, the author unsparingly but with considerable empathy depicts the complicityof a decent guy doing questionable things that give him an alluring sense of freedom and power. Was Marcus manipulating Joe all along? Or did he mean it when he said, "you’re about the only friend I’ve ever had" and just couldn’t help himself? Joe has to live with the fact that he’ll never know, just as he has to live with the consequences of his actions in a novel that, like A Thousand Acres (1991), acknowledges both the seductiveness of excess and the necessity of limits. Blunt and bold: the work of one of America’s best writers. First printing of 200,000
“Smashing. . . . Fascinating. . . . Extremely subtle and nuanced. . . . [It has the] power to beguile and enthrall.” —
The New York Times Book Review
“There seems to be nothing Smiley can’t write about fabulously well; her insights startle, dazzle.” —
San Francisco Chronicle “An irresistible novel of bad manners, a meditation on love and money that Jane Austen might have enjoyed, if she could have handled the sex.” — Time
Good Faith is in perfect move-in condition. . . . [It] displays all the remarkable attention to detail that’s the hallmark of Smiley’s work. . . . Smiley has invested her best talent in this work, and you can buy it in good faith.” — The Christian Science Monitor
“A vindication of the traditional American novel. . . . It depicts its disquiet by means of rich, seamless prose, scenic immediacy and tight plotting. It’s a true winner.” —
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Only a writer of consummate craftsmanship and scope could write a novel about a series of real estate deals in a small town and make it so fully satisfying as to be thrilling. Jane Smiley has done it. . . . [Her] range is broad, her technique masterful. . . . [
Good Faith is] a cautionary prequel just right for our times. And great fun, to boot.” — Los Angeles Times
“Natural, convincing and moving.” —
“I admire this novel in so many ways I hardly know where to start. . . . The suspense Smiley generates is about on a par with a hundred Stephen King creatures coming out of the woods. . . . [Smiley] is one of our most Dickensian novelists, her imagination is prodigious, her observations exact, and the wealth of fascinating people inside her head a national treasure.” —Donald E. Westlake,
The Washington Post Book World
“Striking. . . . Well written, amusing.” —
The Wall Street Journal
“[A] lusty, testosterone-pumped tale, which both revisits Smiley’s obsession with infidelity and underlines her remarkable ability to humanize an industry. . . . You’re sucked in [by] this story’s power.” —
“A literary property that will only appreciate over time.” —
Daily News (New York)
“Scathing, uproarious. . . . All of Smiley’s characters have a sharp vigor that fuels the book’s energy. . . . With its surprises and reversals, and its robust realism pushed step-by-step toward comic hyperbole,
Good Faith affirms one’s faith in the venerable virtues of the satirical novel.” — The Seattle Times
“Smiley is never less than brilliant, and this is a clever, classy and utterly enthralling look back in I-told-you-so amusement.” —
“Seductive. . . . Frisky. . . . Hilariously deadpan . . . a beguiling cautionary tale. . . . Like a sturdy, well-planned house, it makes room for everybody, and it ought to last a long, long time.” —
The Miami Herald
“With an arsenal of talents that seem equipped for everything from high drama to uproarious satire, [Smiley’s] charm and versatility are outdone only by her narrative confidence.” —
The Boston Globe
“[Smiley] is so expert in the vernacular of real estate sales you feel like giving her a license by the end of the book. . . . [She] has imagined herself so deeply into [her protagonist] that we can almost feel the way the guy wiggles his toes in his black silk business socks.” —
“Smiley’s superb novel does for estate agency what
The West Wing does for politics—make it, against the odds, enthralling and sexy. . . . Good Faith has some wonderfully funny characters and is wise and touching.” — Mail on Sunday
“Captivating. . . . Tightly focused. . . . A major piece of literary property.” —
The Christian Science Monitor
“Precise and unshowy, Pulitzer Prize winner Smiley populates her fiction with convincing mothers, lovers, sons and sisters (not to mention houses), and there’s real heart in this tale of a material world in the making. A high point in the genre of real-estate realism.” —
Harpers & Queen, Beach Read of the Month
“A wonderful exposition of a decadent decade.” —
“Riveting. . . . Smiley has remained faithful to an ideal of sheer readability, to the Jamesian dictum that a novelist’s principal task is to be ‘interesting.’ Her artistry in doing so, in populating her fiction with interesting characters doing equally interesting things, is camouflaged by how easy she makes it all look.” —
The New York Times Book Review
“Smiley’s mastery of language and her talent for plot and character make this story resonate with meaning long after its supremely satisfying final page.” —
Sainsbury’s Magazine, Book of the Month
“Entertaining. . . . Perceptive. . . . Although Smiley could make even Whitewater understandable, it’s her characters—flawed, complex, totally convincing—who pull you through the pages. . . .
Good Faith is on the money.” — The Orlando Sentinel
“Smiley is as restless and uninhibited by her own creative history as a novelist can be. . . . She has set herself a new task with every book. . . . Her technical mastery of fiction—her genius for dialogue and for shades of character, her perfect control of events, and her ability to create suspense out of a snowflake’s descent—has meant that all are admirable. . . .
Good Faith has a new world to display and a new vocabulary for Smiley, with her usual miraculous powers of mimicry.” — Daily Telegraph
“On-the-mark. . . . Superbly written. . . . A broadly funny book by someone with an unerring satirical sense and the ability to create wonderful characters.” —
Newark Sunday Star-Ledger
“The unassuming conversations, the faultless dialogue, the sheer ease with which the story progresses are of course Jane Smiley’s strength, and it is considerable.” —Anita Brookner,
“[Smiley] is a gifted realist, able to capture the way things actually work and feel, from a high-level real estate transaction to a pool party circa 1983.” —
The New York Sun
“Smiley’s new novel—written with her customary confidence, scale and assurance—may stand as an arresting development in what might one day look like a distinct genre of American turn-of-the-21st-century fiction, searching back to find the most recent wrong turning in the receding past.” —