GOOD FAITH by Jane Smiley (Knopf), 417 pages, $40 cloth. Rating: NN Rating: NN
This is a book tripped up by expectations. You want a Pulitzer Prize winner to knock you out, but with Good Faith, Jane Smiley (A Thousand Acres) only delivers a few jabs.The story is set in Portsmouth, a sleepy suburb of New York, where Joe Stratford sells real estate for canny developer Gordon Ornquist. But this is the 80s, when money is cheap, the savings and loans are going berserk and smooth talkers like Marcus Burns, ex of the IRS and a new arrival in town, make convincing arguments that the rules of doing business are outdated.
He invites Stratford and Ornquist into a scheme to develop one of Portsmouth's premier farm properties. And Joe, the everyman in this scenario, can smell the big bucks.
Problem is, Burns is not to be trusted. The bigger problem is that we know it, so Smiley cannot possibly ratchet up the tension. This comes as a disappointment from someone who gave us A Thousand Acres' devastating drama.
Smiley does convey a real sense of the 80s zeitgeist. Nobody has a cellphone, computers are still new technology, you get the feeling that everything is going to change in the very near future and that everything's possible. It's a perfect atmosphere for finding patsies.
And in Marcus Burns she has a glib and seductive white-collar criminal who can talk a brilliant line. But as sharply observed as Good Faith is, it's too predictable.
Fans take note that Smiley hits the Harbourfront reading series Monday (May 12). See readings, page 84.