Friday, October 10, 2014

Books: Good Faith

Good Faith
By Jane Smiley
Performed by Richard Poe
Copyright 2003
Approximately 13 hours

As I listened to this book, I could easily imagine I was sitting in on negotiations for the demise of one of Botetourt's big farms as developers plotted a golf course and large homes surrounding it.

We have that, of course. It's called Ashley Plantation. It was built in the late 1990s-early 2000s, and construction screeched to a halt there when the economy soured in 2007.

In Good Faith, Joe Stratford is a real estate agent in New Jersey. He's 40 years old, divorced, and has a decent life. He's got $62,000 in the bank and he owns his condo, and he's content.

Then several things happen. One of his developers, Gordon Baldwin, buys up a big estate and farm. Around the same time, a fellow named Marcus Burns moves into the area. Marcus is a big talker, full of big ideas, and full of himself.

Almost everybody likes Marcus. He's a former IRS agent and people trust him. They think he knows things that they don't, because, well, he was in the government. He has big ideas and big theories.

He convinces Joe, Gordon, bankers, and others that they are thinking small in their development of this farm. Gordon's idea is to cut the place into lots, build houses, maybe 100 of them, and sell them. Typical subdivision. But Marcus talks them into setting up a big development company, and creating a golf course with $400,000 homes built around it.

The story is told from Joe's point of view. He sees Marcus as a friend. Joe has an affair with Gordon's daughter, and he's very involved in that family. So the reader goes along with Joe for this part of his life, in all areas. Joe is a good guy. He's you. He's me. He's every man.

The story is not a mystery, but you want to read to the end. You want to know what happens. Does this big idea work? Does it fail? And what happens either way? Whose lives change, and is that change better, or worse?

The story takes place around 1984. The book jacket calls this "a searing indictment of 1980s greed culture" and I would say that is appropriate. Except, of course, that is now our current culture, all the way to its roots, so it's an indictment of our way of life. And it should be, because we're all patsies in this big game being played upon us by the big corporations and the politicians.

Joe is generally a cautious guy but Marcus's talk of making billions - not millions - puts stars in his eyes. Looking back, I could see this kind of thing really happening all over the US as deregulation came into its own - remember the S&L crisis, anyone over the age of 30? Well, this book is a fictionalized tale of how it happened, and it rings true.

This is a tale of the beginning of the fall of the middle class, which did not start in 2007 but back in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan and the following loss of regulatory rules on banks, utilities, and other things that should be strongly regulated.

The book's message is deep, buried in character and story, but it's there nevertheless. That's one thing I've always liked about Jane Smiley. Her books always have a message, but it doesn't come up and hit you in the face. You have to think about it.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the book report! I'm always happy to hear about good reads!


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