Carousel Court

Joe McGinniss Jr. Simon & Schuster, $25 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9127-2

In his first novel in a decade, McGinniss Jr. (The Delivery Man) paints a bleak portrait of America on the downslide. Nick and Phoebe Maguire left Boston after Phoebe narrowly avoided a tragedy involving their infant son, Jackson. Seeking a new start—Nick as a filmmaker for an Encino PR firm and Phoebe as a pharmaceutical rep—they move into Carousel Court, a subdivision in the Los Angeles suburb of Serenos, whose residents are leaving in droves, casualties of the burst housing bubble. When Nick’s job offer falls through, he signs on as a mover “trashing-out foreclosed homes” for an outfit called EverythingMustGo! The self-loathing Phoebe tiptoes the sharp edge of an addiction to prescription painkillers and an ill-concealed affair with JW, her demanding ex-boss, who jets in and out of the picture. 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. The broad brushstrokes painting Southern California in chaos are unnerving and propulsive in their own right, but McGinniss is at his best when describing, with anthropological intensity, the throes of a broken relationship. (Aug.)