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Monday, November 12, 2007

Book Review: Good Faith


Good Faith by Jane Smiley
Anchor Books, 2004, 432 pages

I just finished reading Jane Smiley's novel Good Faith, and found it to be an interesting read on many levels.
I have read other of Smiley's books, and she fills each of them with meticulous detail that helps the reader create a vivid world for her characters to inhabit. The last book of hers I read, Horse Heaven, was a very detailed look at horse racing framed by the relationships of people -- as well as the horses -- involved in the sport. This time, Smiley painstakingly recreates the world of late seventies early eighties real estate in the Northeast. I was really just a wee child during that time in history, but I could appreciate that setting as one for a story of real estate, money, wealth, sex, greed, adultery, deceit... and some other stuff.
Good Faith did not turn out to be the novel I thought it was when I picked it up at a used bookstore. The cover depicts two pairs of feet, a man in black pants and shoes and a woman barefoot in a white dress. The picture, juxtaposed with the title, suggests a novel about marriage and fidelity, but the book is about so much more. What I like about this book is that the title suits the book in many ways, and the idea of good faith becomes a metaphor or analogy that can be applied to various elements of the story.
The lives of the characters that populate Good Faith are intertwining representations of faith. One part of the story does deal with fidelity and the faith of marriage and even the act of faith that is love. The plot centers on the faith that so many people had circa 1980-82 in the booming real estate market, and the amazing, risky, and downright dirty financial and social activity generated by this faith in the almighty dollar. This is also a story of faith of friendship, faith in oneself, and deep religious faith. Ultimately I think the story is one of having faith that everything will turn out OK in the end, despite life's ups and downs.
I enjoyed this book although it was a long read. I am a fast reader and, although I enjoyed the complex characterization and the amount of detail Smiley puts into describing houses and people and conversations, there was a point where I wanted the story to hurry up. I guess this is the suspense smiley wanted, though, because I did feel like I was inhabiting a world she created. It was a bit more boring than suspenseful at some points, but I found the end satisfying. I liked Horse Heaven, more, however, because of the subject matter and would recommend that for a first time Smiley reader.

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