Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Book Review: "Carousel Court" by Joe McGinniss Jr.

If you're feeling the slightest bit down or depressed with the direction your life is currently heading, I'd suggest you skip this book. While certainly well-written, Joe McGinniss Jr.'s Carousel Court is a tremendously dark, almost brutal depiction of how the American Dream can slip out of your fingers, and its effect on a marriage and the psyches of both parties.

Phoebe and Nick Maguire are tired. They're tired of slaving away at their jobs, they're tired of their Boston neighborhood, and most of all, as parents of young Jackson, they're just physically tired. When Nick gets offered a production job in Southern California, they jump at the chance to restart their lives, and dream of a house near the beach.

As with many dreams, their reality falls short. They make the decision to buy a McMansion in a newer neighborhood, and they add many extras—granite countertops, a pool, even a rock-climbing wall—which will double their money once they sell it. The problem is, they've bought at the height of market, and it's not soon after that they find themselves stuck with this house, in a neighborhood replete with foreclosed house after foreclosed house, where their neighbors light their belongings on fire and patrol the chaos with guns.

Nick is desperate to be the provider for his family, which is no easy task amidst economic chaos, but he comes up with a scheme that may put them back on the track they've wanted to follow. Phoebe is surviving on an immense amount of drugs, and is becoming less and less motivated to continue her pharmaceutical sales job, a field in which she had stellar success back in Boston. She mostly uses her body and her sexuality to convince doctors they should prescribe the drugs she's selling, but even that power doesn't satisfy her. As she becomes increasingly self-destructive, she, too, is toying with ways to regain her financial independence, even if they put her at odds with Nick.

The threat of violence and unlawfulness is pervasive, as Nick's new scheme catches the attention of people with very little to lose. And as Phoebe's downward spiral continues, Nick realizes he may have to choose between his marriage and his son, and protect him before Phoebe's careless disregard causes them all harm.

This is really a depressing book, but I believe for those whose desperation grew during the financial crisis of the late 2000s, it's not that far from truth in some cases. You feel a sense of impending doom and danger, and it almost makes you want to read the book with your hands over your eyes because you don't know if you want to see what's going to happen. (For those who react viscerally to reading about animals being mistreated or harmed, you may want to skip this book.)

The dissolution of Phoebe and Nick's marriage is really brutal as well. I saw a blurb for this book compare it to Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road, and it definitely has a similar feel, particularly to the Leonardo DiCaprio/Kate Winslet film adaptation. After a while the whole thing got to be too much for me—too much of the same behaviors over and over again, too many days of prescription drug abuse and alcohol, too much unhappiness.

I'd never read anything by McGinniss Jr. before, but I was really impressed at how well he portrayed a toxic marriage in the midst of economic disaster. It was a little hard to take after a while, much like Revolutionary Road, but I was still impressed with his artistry.

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