(Simon & Schuster)

In the opening pages of “Carousel Court,” Joe McGinniss Jr.’s new novel about young parents struggling to keep their house and marriage afloat in Southern California, Nick and Phoebe Maguire resort to pretty much any tactic, no matter how unseemly, to survive.

A pharmaceutical rep constantly on a Klonopin bender, the 30-something Phoebe makes a doctor’s appointment on the pretense of discussing her anxiety and getting a check-up. But while the physician examines Phoebe’s nether regions, she pitches her employer’s latest asthma drug.

“This is a first,” the doctor says to Phoebe, who’s dressed in a paper gown on the exam table. “You’re working me?”

Everyone seems to work everyone in this novel, which captures the desperation of the Maguires. They live on Carousel Court, in the fictional town of Serenos, near Los Angeles, where wildfires loom, coyotes roam and strangers trawl suburban streets to loot foreclosed, vacant homes. The foreboding backdrop matches the dark and darkly comic storyline of a millennial couple teetering and holding on tight to whatever’s left of their mores.

The Maguires have just moved west from Boston, where they met after graduation. Nick, an aspiring documentarian whose job offer at a California film production company got rescinded on the eve of their move, now works for a shady firm called EverythingMustGo! He trashes out people’s foreclosed homes, often late at night, sacrificing time he’d rather spend with his toddler son. Meanwhile, Phoebe is both a slave to her own artillery of pills (not just Klonopin, but the antidepressant Effexor) and drugs she hawks for GlaxoSmithKline.

Author Joe McGinniss Jr. (Beowulf Sheehan)

They need to make money to pay the mortgage on their Carousel Court abode, which they tricked out with an hourglass-shaped pool, a rock-climbing wall and double-ascending stairways. Like so many of this era’s get-rich-quick real estate dreamers, Nick and Phoebe struck a deal enabling them to borrow up to 125 percent of the market value of their home, hoping its worth would soar so they could flip it. But then came all the foreclosures, sapping property values, driving the couple into more debt.

How do the Maguires stay married? How do they save themselves from slipping out of what they view as their rightful orbit of Equinox gyms and Montessori schools? Only in the most conniving ways possible.

Nick winds up exploiting the housing crisis to his advantage: He figures out which foreclosed homes on his list of EverythingMustGo! properties have been vacant the longest and begins renting them out to other victims of the housing crisis even more desperate than him. Phoebe, for her part, re-engages a previous affair, her former and very rich financial services boss, whom she tries to con into a high-paying job in exchange for hotel sex.

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.”

I also love the way McGinniss weaves in the happy advertisements that bombard us: “Dream Extreme,” one message says upon the Maguires’ arrival in Serenos — in fact, the very first words of the book. Or, “Live Radiantly,” on a graffitied billboard that confronts Phoebe as she considers a rendezvous with her old boss.

McGinniss, who lives in Washington, loves this kind of realism about our devious advertising age, perhaps because of his reporter genes: He notes in the book’s biographical blurb that he is the son of that McGinniss, the late Joe McGinniss indicted in the Janet Malcolm classic “The Journalist and the Murderer,” as an example of journalism’s con artists.

McGinniss Jr.’s story usually goes fast, but the momentum sometimes stalls because the book is carved up into so many chapters — 97, in fact.

A more significant problem is the dialogue, which can be cheesy. Characters say or text things — much of the novel’s warfare takes place on the cellphone screen — that feel designed to squeeze the reader’s hand too tightly. During one of Nick and Phoebe’s lengthier texting death matches, he dashes off a 53-word missive that feels less like an angry husband’s diatribe and more like the author’s way to make sure we know exactly what’s been happening for the previous hundreds of pages.

But “Carousel Court” still manages to be a brutal story, realistic enough, at least, to scare off anyone from buying an interest-only, zero-down home in California. The whole time, I kept thinking: If only this novel had been written before the housing crisis.

Ian Shapira is a staff writer for The Washington Post.

Carousel Court

By Joe McGinniss Jr.

Simon & Schuster. 354 pp. $26