Skip to Main Content

About The Book

Joe McGinniss Jr., who is “poised to become one of our sharpest observers of life in America at the start of the twenty-first century” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), returns with one of the most engrossing, unnerving, and exhilarating novels in recent memory: a viscerally absorbing look at the seductive—and destructive—cutting edge of marriage.

Nick and Phoebe Maguire are a young couple who move cross-country to Southern California in search of a fresh start for themselves and their infant son following a trauma. But they arrive at the worst possible economic time, cemented into the dark heart of foreclosure alley and surrounded by neighbors swamped by debt who set fire to their belongings, flee in the dead of night, and eye one another with suspicion while keeping shotguns by their beds. Trapped, broke, and increasingly desperate, Nick and Phoebe each devise their own plan to claw their way back into the middle class and beyond. Hatched under one roof, their two separate, secret agendas will inevitably collide.

“A fearless novel about a family and a society on the brink…Harrowing but, against all odds, ultimately tender” (O, The Oprah Magazine), Carousel Court is an unforgettable vision of contemporary life. It has the ambition of our most serious literary work and the soul of a thriller, managing to be simultaneously sexy, scary, and powerfully moving. Most of all, it offers an unflinching portrait of modern marriage in a nation scarred by vanished jobs, psychotropic cure-alls, infidelity via iPhone, and ruthless choices. “Fast…Foreboding…Joe McGinniss spins an edgy tale, often laced with a reporter’s eye for the little details that make characters pop” (The Washington Post). He leaves you simultaneously gutted and grateful—and curious what your partner is up to on that electronic device across the room.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Carousel Court includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


In the wake of a terrible accident, Nick and Phoebe Maguire move from Boston to Carousel Court—a brand-new subdivision in Southern California—with big plans: upgrade and flip their house, move to the beach, and live the upper-middle-class lifestyle they’ve always wanted. But when the housing bubble bursts, so do their dreams of a nice car, organic grocery stores, and private school for their son, Jackson. Driven to extreme measures by debt and desperation, Nick and Phoebe reach the brink of self-destruction before they can fight their way back to happiness.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. Nick and Phoebe are deeply flawed characters who intentionally hurt each other—and themselves—throughout the course of the novel. Did you see them as relatable or sympathetic in any way? Are they victims or perpetrators? Why or why not?

2. The physical setting in Carousel Court is alternately a breezy, sunny California where “everything pops” (72) and a barren, smoldering landscape of “moaning winds and anguished cries coming from the bone-dry hills” (46). Discuss the significance of the setting and how it both impacts and reflects Nick and Phoebe’s psyches over the course of the novel.

3. The specter of America’s subprime mortgage crisis looms large in this novel. How does McGinniss’s fictional portrayal support, inform, or contradict your understanding of the real-life housing bubble?

4. How do the gendered expectations of marriage factor into Nick and Phoebe’s relationship? What motivates their individual striving: wealth, prestige, physical comfort, stability, or something else?

5. Phoebe’s body seems to deteriorate over the course of the novel, while Nick appears stronger and more virile than ever. What is the symbolic importance of their physical bodies?

6. Discuss Jackson’s role in Carousel Court. How would the novel differ if Nick and Phoebe were childless?

7. What is your impression of Nick and Phoebe’s neighbors? How does the financial crisis impact their sense of community?

8. Nick finds two abandoned dogs while clearing out foreclosed homes: one long dead and the other, who he adopts and names Blackjack, severely neglected. Why do you think McGinniss includes these two instances in the novel? What do you make of Blackjack’s grisly death?

9. What is Phoebe’s primary motivation for going back to JW again and again? Is she simply attracted to his wealth and power, or is she using him as a means of helping her family?

10. Discuss Nick’s affair with Mallory. Do you think his infidelity is more forgivable than Phoebe’s? Why or why not?

11. Why do you think McGinniss chose to reveal Phoebe’s childhood backstory at the end of the novel? Did these chapters change your opinion of her in any way?

12. In what ways is Carousel Court a cultural critique? Is this a novel about modern-day values, or is it a universal story?

13. Reread the novel’s two epigraphs. Has your interpretation of these quotes changed after finishing the book?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Watch the film The Big Short with your book club (or read the source material by Michael Lewis). Discuss how the real-life housing crisis compares to Nick and Phoebe’s circumstances in Carousel Court.

2. Cast your own film version of Carousel Court. Which actors would you want to play the main characters and why?

3. Read Joe McGinniss’s first novel, The Delivery Man, and compare it to Carousel Court. Is there any continuity between the two in terms of style, theme, and setting? Which book was your favorite?

4. Find out more about McGinniss by visiting his website ( and following him on Twitter (@joemcginnissjr).

About The Author

(c) Beowulf Sheehan

Joe McGinniss Jr. is the author of Carousel Court and The Delivery Man. He lives in Washington, DC, with his family.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (August 2, 2016)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476791302

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

An Indie Next Selection of Independent Booksellers

One of New York magazine’s “8 Books You Need to Read This August”

One of USA Today’s “Hottest Books”

One of Men’s Journal’s “Best Books of August”

One of The Millions’ “Most Anticipated Books of the Year”

“A fearless novel about a family and a society on the brink . . . Harrowing but, against all odds, ultimately tender . . . [Nick and Phoebe] offer the possibility of a simple but enormous grace: that we may fail and still be loved, if only imperfectly, if only for a time.”
O, The Oprah Magazine

“Propulsive . . . Carousel Court is a raw, close-up portrait of a married couple tormented by money problems in the midst of a national recession. . . . The result is thrilling and uncomfortable—a novel that dwells in the filth of love and hate and blame and money in post-crash America with an intimacy that never lets up. . . . The marriage starts to feel not just tense but enormously dangerous. . . . It’s very hard to look away.”
Los Angeles Times

“Fast . . . Foreboding . . . This couple will stop at nothing to keep their house and marriage afloat. . . . McGinniss spins an edgy tale, often laced with a reporter’s eye for the little details that make characters pop and convey a sarcastic take on what a certain slice of people need nowadays to feel uplifted: anti-anxiety pills, yes, but also the produce section of Whole Foods, where Phoebe has spent so much time that she’s learned ‘the fine mist showering the mustard greens, arugula, and summer squash is on a forty-second cycle—ten seconds on, thirty seconds off.’”
The Washington Post

“McGinniss is poised to become one of our sharpest observers of life in America at the start of the 21st century. . . . Watching things get ugly for Nick and Phoebe is riveting. . . . What makes the reader turn the pages of Carousel Court isn’t the tragedy that befalls Nick and Phoebe—it’s the threat of tragedy. The couple and their toddler are skating on the edge of a razor blade and the reader is hooked by their struggle to put their lives back together.”
Kirkus Reviews

Carousel Court is a gritty, raw novel that will have readers recalling the icy relationships found in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Adam Ross’s Mr. Peanut. McGinniss’s work is built on layers of tension and dark turns that, at times, surpass the twisted works of his contemporaries. . . . McGinniss deserves a lot of credit for handling the darkness so well. He never seems to overdo it. When he gets close to the edge, he adds in just the right amount of humor.”
Electric Literature

“A novel of unrelenting tension . . . Phoebe is a lexicon of contradictions, a kind of update on Maria Wyeth of Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays. McGinniss also recalls Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust in depicting their road, Carousel Court, as a catalog of strangeness and dangers: from coyotes and marauding home invaders to weird neighbors and crying, screaming cicadas. McGinniss . . . injects it with an urgency, a sense of constant, inescapable threat that all adds up to a taut page-turner.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Powerful . . . May have some readers recalling Yeats’ poem ‘The Second Coming.’ ”
Booklist (starred review)

“Propulsive . . . The novel’s nearly 100 vignettes—many of them gems of concision and electric prose that lay bare the darker sides of Nick and Phoebe, as well as the handful of coworkers and eccentric neighbors who swirl down the drain with them—mirror the discontent seething just beneath the surface of an ersatz American dream. . . . McGinniss is at his best when describing, with anthropological intensity, the throes of a broken relationship.”
Publishers Weekly

“Totally addictive.”

“Gripping . . . A portrait of a marriage as volatile as the economy.”
The Millions

“McGinniss writes with a keen feel for the contemporary zeitgeist. . . . His characters in Carousel Court move in a brutal world of broken personal connections, social unrest, and financial desperation. . . . Yet McGinniss opens a window of hope as Nick and Phoebe survive the mess they make of their lives.”
Shelf Awareness (starred review)

“Here it is, the leveraged, frayed, unfaithful, buzzed America that all the baloney entertainment products, including a lot that pose as literature, are designed to cover up. Can you handle the truth? Then step inside. This scathing novel of our strange new century is like nothing else I’ve read in years.”
—Walter Kirn, author of Up in the Air

“Harrowing, smart, wickedly accurate about the third world of the contemporary United States, and very well written.”
—Lionel Shriver, author of We Need to Talk about Kevin

Carousel Court showcases a domestic circus of the most compelling kind: a kaleidoscopic train-wreck of a marriage set ablaze by the bright white hyperreality of a California suburb in decline. Joe McGinniss Jr. writes with wit and scorching honesty about adultery, addiction, and financial ruin, never losing sight of his characters’ humanity and their fractured hope that redemption might be possible after all.”
—Carolyn Parkhurst, author of The Dogs of Babel and Lost and Found

Carousel Court pulls no punches, taking on nothing less than marriage, and the false promises of our American Dream. These are great big subjects and Joe McGinniss Jr. is more than up to them. Mature and smart and in control of his arsenal, he writes tenderly about family and parenthood, and is every bit as clear-eyed when the subject is underwater mortgages or secret sexting. The result is a hell of a roller coaster. Strap yourself.”
—Charles Bock, author of Beautiful Children

“In urgent, kaleidoscopic prose, Joe McGinniss Jr. diagnoses the American Dream with a high fever, jaundice, and severe heartburn. Set in a simmering suburban Los Angeles, Carousel Court is the portrait of a disastrous but thoroughly modern marriage whose young wife, Phoebe Maguire, is hurtling toward a pill-fueled implosion that’s impossible to look away from. The pitch-perfect ending reverberates like a handbell after a hurricane.”
—Kate Christensen, author of The Great Man

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images