By Jonathan Miles
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt November 2013
From the library
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