Good Faith
Jane Smiley
Richard Poe,

(Recorded Books Unabridged)
Joe Stratford is a simple but honest real estate agent in the smallish town of Portsmouth. We meet him at the same time that he meets Marcus Burns, a former IRS agent. It is 1982, the beginning of the savings-and-loan go-go years.

A large farm has just come on the market and Burns convinces the new manager of the local S&L, Joey and Gordon Baldwin --- a local poker-playing buddy --- that they can use the old farm for a clubhouse, add a golf-course, build four hundred or so houses, borrow to the hilt and, zingo, they will all be millionaires. Or as Joey enthusiastically puts it, "billionaires."

Ms. Smiley's book takes us through all the stages of the development, from sale, plans, city and county permits, haggling between the partners, and the final surprise, last-minute denouement.

I live in a rental apartment, never invested in real property (and am thus probably poor by today's standards). I have never voluntarily, to my knowledge, spent any hours much less days talking shop with a crew of real-estate agents, bankers, builders, contractors, and speculators. All I lack in this field is made up for by the goings-on in Good Faith. Indeed, at times I was convinced that Smiley knows too much about real-estate dealings. Joe and Marcus and Gordon and the bank manager never stop talking about mortgages, closings, appraisals, cost-overruns, down payment, "gravel-pit restrictions," escrow and 1-br-downstairs, 2-br-up-with-bath, Queen Anne in the "high $100s." After awhile we feel that we have not only been introduced to an army of real-estate operators, we've been forced to move in, eat with, and finally go to bed with them and their busy chatter about Deals.

§     §     §

There is another bother you might find in this version of Good Faith. When one gets to my age (don't ask) one begins to zip over the wet stuff so popular in modern novels; on the written page, it can pass one right by --- whether it's having a fling in the office, or in a hotel, or, my least favorite conjoining on a rolling office-chair, at Mac the contractor's office, banging the closed door while everyone eating pork pie in the adjoining dining-room.

A tape recording is linear, and there's something about this stuff going on in your ear right in your ear than is less that lubricious. Felicity's "vaginal muscles;" Joey "entering her;" and his mewling question --- after a bout of cocaine with Susan --- "Am I ever going to come?" I am as game as the next guy for a bit of goo between the sheets (or between the pages) but on tape, this stuff can come to be something of a sticky wicket.

Except for this push-me-pull-you, the recorded version of Good Faith is laudable. Reader Richard Poe has the right middle-class Pennsylvania small-time real estate agent first-person baritone, a slightly nasal American 40ish voice, the voice of a man who learns surprise because, after all is said and done, this is a mystery novel: You and I and Joey learn the villain's handle in the very last pages of the novel. His name is "leverage."

--- Mary Lee Rowland
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