Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Smashing. . . . Fascinating. . . . Extremely subtle and nuanced. . . . [It has the] power to beguile and enthrall. The New York Times Book Review
introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author
biography that follow are designed to enhance your groups reading of
Jane Smileys Good Faith
. In this new novel she brings her
extraordinary gifts to the seductive, wishful, wistful world of real
estate, in which the sport of choice is a mind game.
- Having given Joe Stratford the role of narrator, Smiley gives her
readers a great deal of access to Joes thoughts. What difference does
it make that the novel is narrated in first person rather than third?
Why does Smiley give us the story from Joes perspective?
kind of a person is Joe? What does he think about himself, his marriage
to Sherry [pp. 1516], and his life? How accurate are his judgments
about himself and other people?
- Look closely at a couple of
scenes in which Felicity and Joe are alone together. What specific
details of Smileys writing style affect the readers experience of
their love affair? Does Felicity love Joe? Does he love her? If he
does, why does he not pursue her more actively?
- Discuss the
main elements of Felicitys character. What is admirable about her? To
what degree is she a typical dissatisfied homemaker motivated by
boredom and restlessness? Is she playing a game with Joe for her own
amusement? How important is the conversation between Felicity and Joe
in which she tells him, You do tempt me to find the limits of your
kindness [see pp. 141 43]?
- What do secondary yet vibrant
characters like the Davids, Gottfried Nuelle, and George Sloan
contribute to the novels world? Do they create a sense of realism? Are
they there for comic relief? How important is humor in Smileys writing?
- In what sense is Jane Smiley interested in exposing certain truths about small-town, middle-class America? What points does
raise about how ordinary people respond when they seem to see a chance
to increase their wealth and raise their social status? What social
concerns might have motivated Smiley to take on a novel about the
1980s? How is the present social climate different, and how is it
similar, to those greedy years?
- Is Joe a man who is looking
for others to tell him what to do? Consider the descriptions of his
relationship with Sally Baldwin and with his ex-wife Sherry. Consider
his relationship with Marcus, and with Felicity. Is passivity a major
flaw in Joe? Might it be considered a part of his charm?
effect has Joes upbringing had on his character? Discuss his
relationship with his parents and his rejection of their religious
life. How strong a sense of ethics does Joe have? At what point, if
any, does he begin to act and think more like Marcus?
- How does
Smiley present Marcus Burns, and how does she develop his character?
What are his attractive qualities? Does Smiley imply that Marcus had
talents that were somehow misdirected? What propels him into
- What is Marcuss appeal to Joe? On what is their
friendship based? On page 413 Joe describes the after-effects of
Marcuss betrayal and wonders why, since Marcus had already received
the money from the loan, he also took Joes savings. What might have
been Marcuss reason for delivering this deeply personal blow to Joes
- Is this novel concerned more with character or
with plot? To what degree is the element of surprise important to the
story? Is there a sense of inevitability about what is going to happen
to Joe, and to Joes money? If so, how does this affect the reading
experience? What, if anything, is surprising about the final chapters?
- The novel raises interesting questions about real estate development,
the value of the countryside, and ones sense of place. Can you infer
Smileys feelings about the widespread transformation of the American
landscape during such periods as the 80s? What human emotions drive the
forces of change?
- Is it surprising that central characters
like Joe, Gordon, and Felicity escape prosecution? What conclusions can
the reader draw from Felicitys involvement with Marcus and Jane?
Is it surprising that central characters like Joe, Gordon, and Felicity
escape prosecution? What conclusions can the reader draw from
Felicitys involvement with Marcus and Jane?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Anchor Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.