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.Introduction
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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 (www.joemcginnissjr.com) and following him on Twitter (@joemcginnissjr).