Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Review: Want Not

Want Not
By Jonathan Miles
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt November 2013
389 pages
From the library

Want Not

A couple squats in a deserted building and lives off of the food they find in garbage cans. A woman is still furious with her husband whose death in the 9/11 attacks revealed his infidelity. She finds herself unable to get rid of his things or truly commit to her new marriage. An overweight linguist is asked to create some sort of warning that will keep the people of the future away from a toxic dump site. As the novel opens on Thanksgiving Day, these people are very different and very separate. But as the story progresses, they become connected in surprising and irrevocable ways.

The title is indicative of so many things. This book cleverly examines the many ways in which we waste things - food, possessions, relationships. It strikes the delicate balance of being thought-provoking without being preachy because the theme serves the story instead of the other way around. It would have been simple to focus on Talmadge and Micah, the freegan couple trying to make it in NYC. Micah vehemently believes that they are protesting the broken system of commerce and waste by not playing a part in it. It would be easy to make the couple the mouthpiece of a viewpoint instead of fully realized characters. Instead, we feel Talmadge's love for his girlfriend and learn of Micah's broken and tragic past. Nothing is as simple as it seems. 

Want Not is one of those wonderful books that you marvel over as you read it. Miles follows the title's philosophy and not a line of story is wasted. We get the perfect amount of time with each character to make us really invested. This is a great accomplishment for two reasons. This is impressive because some of the characters are not particularly likable. Dave, for example, is an overbearing, pompous jerk of a guy who made his fortune by convincing people to pay off debts that would have been forgiven. He veers the closest to being a caricature, but Miles manages to give him just enough humanity to keep him believable. The character work in this book is that much more impressive when we realize that there really isn't a protagonist - there are eight. The storyline jumps from character to character, but each move makes sense and every character is intriguing enough to follow.

This is a stunner of a book. Want Not has it all - nuanced writing, wonderfully developed characters, and a story that will make you ask question what you keep and what you leave behind. 



One of my first book reviews (!) - Jonathan Miles' debut novel Dear American Airlines 

14 comments:

  1. I keep seeing this super awesome cover and then cruising on by to something else. I'm glad I slowed down long enough to read your review because "nuance" is one of those words that's guaranteed to make me pay attention.

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    1. Yes, I really appreciate nuance and I think this book has it in spades. I'm still thinking about all of the ways this author used what seems like a really simple theme.

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  2. I have never heard of this title or the author before but your review has convinced me to keep an eye out for it. Thanks.

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    1. That's what a book reviewer likes to hear. :)

      I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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  3. Wow. You've really been flying through the books lately. And they all sound so good! Makes it hard to know which one to read first. :) But that's a problem I don't mind having, you know?

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    1. I hate that problem...but then I wouldn't want it any other way. :)

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  4. When I know a book has a lot of focal characters I tend to shy away from them but you have definitely sparked my interest in Want Not - added to my ever growing wishlist! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    :-)
    Bits & Bobs

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    1. I agree! I find that usually, when there are a lot of characters, that I am more enamored with one than with the others. That is not the case here!

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  5. I love character-driven stories so this might be something I will read after reading your review. I think the humanness of the book will appeal to me. Thank you for the recommendation! :)

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    1. I'm so glad it sounds like something you would enjoy!

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  6. I really liked this one too! It was chock full of groovy characters :)

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    1. I think you may be the only person I know who would refer to the characters as groovy...I like it a lot. :)

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  7. I've been seeing this again and again and had no clue what it was about. I'm definitely reading it now because it sounds really interesting. Great review!!!

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    1. That happens to me all the time! How is it possible that we read about a book, but still aren't sure what is happening in it?!?

      I hope you enjoy it!

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