A pitch-perfect reflection of many working class Americans’ deepest fears.
Joe McGinniss Jr.’s first novel, The Delivery Man, was endorsed by Bret Easton Ellis. That really says something about McGinniss’ talent to shock, awe and disturb, as well as his ability to weave short, punchy sentences together to craft a taught, brutally honest reflection of the underbelly of American life. Carousel Court is no different. It is nasty, vicious, oppressively bleak, sickly funny and, above all, written with poise and restraint (even if this level of restraint only holds readers back from needing to put the book down to weep openly about their own tenuous lives). While this novel has been described as everything from a literary novel to a thriller, which is all true, it’s also breeds a sense of dread that can typically only be found in horror novels. There’s nothing supernatural here, but monsters are real—and they live in our souls.
Carousel Court finds its temporal home just after the housing bubble burst of 2008. Nick and Phoebe and their baby have moved to a Californian housing development that was supposed to be a bastion of American suburban splendor, only to find it filled with abandoned homes, wildly paranoid neighbors and the black cloud of excess that nearly destroyed the entire country. Nick has wild ideas of ways to get ahead of trends—which is why they bought the house in the first place, to flip it and sell it—but instead spends his nights as a repo-man, breaking in and gutting foreclosed homes. Phoebe works as a pharmaceutical sales rep going into doctors’ offices to seduce the docs with her undeniable sex appeal in order to make the sale, but she’s sampling her product more and more these days and becoming dependent on drugs to relieve her tension. Neither protagonist knows exactly how to care for their child. Neither hates the other completely. But both find it difficult to love one another anymore, as their stuck in a home they can’t afford and in jobs that could lead to their deaths.
This novel is a pitch-perfect reflection of many working class Americans’ deepest fears. That wonderful home you and your spouse have bought and made together could be taken from you before you realize there’s any issue at all. Your lovely marriage could crumble under the weight of seemingly dead-end lifestyles. You could resent your children for even existing. You could end up actively working against your spouse because you believe they have gone off the proverbial rails and you’re the only one who can save the day. And there’s no one to help you. That’s the backbone of Carousel Court. The deepest, darkest, most dreadful fears that linger just on the other side of your consciousness turn the corner and stare you in the face. And those fears show you what you really are. That’s true horror. And this novel is scary in the most visceral ways—by tugging those fears to the surface and making readers consider that maybe, just maybe, their happy little lives could end at any moment.
All of what’s written above, despite the terror it can dredge up, is what makes for a great novel. McGinniss is unafraid to wrestle with such things, but his ability to put them on the page is a feat in and of itself. It’s the style in which he does it, however, that makes this novel truly special. Part punch-you-in-the-face minimalism, part grotesque Chuck Palahniuk-esque peek into darkness, Carousel Court will grip your throat in the first two pages and won’t let go for the entire reading experience—even when you’re not reading it all.
It’s safe to say this novel isn’t for everyone. Please read with caution. But if you enjoy literature that gives you some perspective on how nasty love, life and American living can be (which, by the way, only the best American literature does), then go on and pick up Carousel Court. Despite the horror it will dig up from the deepest recesses of your mind, it’s more than worth the cover price because, not only can McGinniss write immensely well, he can make you feel things you probably should be feeling, but are too afraid to in real life.