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Monday, December 9, 2013

Want Not: A Novel

I enjoyed Jonathan Miles's earlier work, Dear American Airlines, so I grabbed his newest, Want Not, as soon as I heard it was coming out.

Thanksgiving Day 2007. Micah and Talmadge are freegans living off the grid in New York City when Talmadge's old college buddy comes to visit. Elwin is a professor of linguistics whose wife left him for a celebrity chef and his father is suffering from Alzheimer's. Dave, a ruthless debt collector, and Sara, his trophy wife, are both on their second marriages, Sara's husband having died in the World Trade Center. Her daughter, Alexis, is a teenager with a fraught relationship with her parents. As these three story trains run on their separate paths, they will soon collide in a life-changing way that will leave each of them affected forever.

I am usually not a fan of the triptych formula where stories collide, but Miles has a sneaky way of making you fall in love with him and his storytelling. You forget while reading his prose that he is guiding you up a shallow slope until you get to the top, look down, and realize you are standing on the highest cliff you have ever seen. Then he pushes you off.

The largest and most important theme of this book is waste. How do we view our consumer culture? Do we use everything that is available to us, or do we waste what we have both created and been given? When we look at trash, do we see it as waste or do we see it as untapped potential? Who gets to decide what is trash and what isn't? This is a theme I have been struggling with lately as I have been trying to come in under the national average of four pounds of trash per person produced every day.

I found Micah to be the most interesting character in this book; when Miles explores her backstory in detail I was rapt. It was fascinating and horrifying, lovely and astounding. Miles has a brilliant way of exploring his characters so that the reader knows them. Like, really knows them. I sit in awe of this book and its exploration into the deep, dark recesses of the human psyche and the implications of this on the world.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

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