Monday, June 21, 2010

Real Estate Law and Summer Reading: Jane Smiley's "Good Faith"

If you are looking for a (relatively) light, fun summer read with a dose of real estate law (!), check out Jane Smiley's Good Faith.

Smiley won the Pulitzer Prize for an earlier novel A Thousand Acres (which also revolves around real estate).

She wrote Good Faith in 2003, but the story is set in the early 1980's -- and Smiley captures the heady optimism and go-go capitalism of that time brilliantly. 

The protagonist is Joe Stratford, a Realtor who joins with local big-shot businessman Gordon Baldwin and mysterious ex- IRS agent Marcus Burns in a plan to purchase an estate property from a couple in their 80's, mortgage it to the hilt, develop it into high-end lots -- and make millions on the re-sales.

Smiley's story has tons of fun details about real estate contract negotiations and the "ins and outs" of working with builders, zoning officials, and bank officers. The dialogue is witty and the first half of the book is particularly well-plotted (about halfway through, the story became a bit far-fetched for my taste).

In the acknowledgments at the back of the novel, Smiley says that several real estate lawyer friends assisted her with the details as she wrote the book -- and it shows. She vividly captures the various relationships involved in "the deal," and she creates characters who are believable (for the most part!) and a story that keeps you guessing.

Reader Beware: Good Faith is not appropriate for younger readers or those who prefer their fictional relationships be portayed in "PG" rather than "R" -- there are a couple of romantic subplots which contain rather graphic details.