When Nick Maguire moves his wife, Phoebe, and their 2-year-old son, Jackson, from Boston to Southern California, he hopes to put their rocky past behind them. But as quickly becomes apparent in Carousel Court, Joe McGinniss Jr.’s intense new novel, some bruises need more than time and distance to heal.
Nick, who makes his living producing corporate films, accepts a job as a production manager with a boutique firm in Encino. Phoebe, a former analyst at a financial-services firm in Boston, had an affair with the lead partner, known only as JW. Now, she sells (and takes) anxiety medicine for a pharmaceutical firm. Well aware of her attractiveness, she employs a unique method of enticing male doctors to buy her products.
One of the biggest motivators for the move occurred when Phoebe, exhausted and high on Klonopin, slammed her car into an idling truck and nearly killed Jackson. Nick’s plan had been to move West, buy an investment property to upgrade, and give Phoebe time to regain her stability.
But when Nick’s job offer falls through, he becomes a repo man who pretends to own some of the repossessed homes and rents them to unsuspecting tenants. He and Phoebe feel stuck in their own neighborhood, Carousel Court, with neighbors so fearful of one another that some of them sleep in tents and carry guns. And all of this is before JW contacts Phoebe with promises of future employment and the prospect of further infidelity.
Despite repetitive elements, Carousel Court is a searing indictment of excess ambition and a dark portrait of the bitterness that forms when life and careers don’t work out as planned. As McGinniss makes clear, no amount of fancy buttercream carpeting or expensive organic cherimoya will mask the pain of a strained marriage. But as one character says, “Maybe there is something approaching salvation to be found in all these dead houses.” The same is true of seemingly moribund marriages: They may be on the verge of collapse, but maybe some of them still have value.