I should preface this with the admission that I was a Smiley virgin. A quick search of Library Thing tells me that she has legions of tepidly devoted fans, but Good Faith has been my first foray into her body of work. My search also tells me that Good Faith might not have been the best starting point for getting into her body of work. Apparently her novel A Thousand Acres won a Pulitzer in ’92, whereas Good Faith receives mixed reviews at best, some readers feeling it was distinctly different from her other work. With this on the table, let’s get down to business.
This book was a page-turner, fully enthralling, and I’ve had trouble remembering why. The narrative meandered so mellowly along through the book that I can hardly believe I arrived, somehow, at its conclusion. Right up until the book’s final chapter, life is good for our protagonist, Joe, and his gaggle of extremely likeable, off-beat friends. And without giving too much away, while we constantly sense that something could go wrong, and indeed things occasionally do go wrong (to varying degrees of “wrongness”), we’re never left with that “something just went wrong” feeling that say, David Adams Richards is so fond of imparting. Instead, the 80s, sub-rural, plaza-scape setting and off-beatyness of the characters makes everything look a little surreal. Just surreal enough that we don’t really care when something goes wrong. Kind of like having a perpetual buzz. Kind of like the 80s?
I’ll further confuse that last confusing paragraph by adding that this surreality is punctuated with strikingly genuine, beautiful & tender moments framed within Joe’s (surreal) affair with a close, married, long-time friend and surrogate sister. I really don’t know how Smiley managed it. From time to time her language gets a little steamy for my taste – I find novelists usually navigate the language of sexuality awkwardly, mixing together words like “cock” and “love-making” – but Smiley rarely trespasses here. Her incorporation of achingly real detail into the love affair overshadows what awkwardness exists in its language. It conjures our best feelings (like the ones from good dreams) without ever becoming sentimental.
So although this was my first Smiley, and apparently not her best, I enjoyed it greatly. I’m a fan of her craftsmanship and I’d say even more than just a tepid fan... I’d say - a warm fan.