Want Not

The first thing that comes to mind when considering Jonathan Miles’ new novel, Want Not, is that writing is absolutely dazzling. Three stories linked by the theme of what is disposable–a husband, the past, innocence, a deer, credit cards receipts, food past its “sell by” date– and what is preservable. Masterfully, Miles links  three seemingly unrelated stories in surprising ways, just when this reader thought it couldn’t happen. His marvelously flawed characters are drawn with compassion and and a great deal of humor. I found myself making judgments about some of the characters early on and then completely changing my mind as they became more developed; this was especially the case with the loutish Dave whose slimy business entails harassing people to pay on old loans that he purchased cheaply, who is celebrator of the perfect pooh and improver of his wife’s body via silicon implants.  He becomes the unlikely confident and champion of his neglected, unmoored stepdaughter.  When we first meet dumpster-diving Talmadge, he seems genuinely concerned with living off the grid and reducing waste, but he reveals himself to be a follower who can’t defend his lifestyle to his freeloading college buddy and winds up following him off a proverbial cliff.  When we meet linguistics professor Elwin, his judgment blurred by alcohol, he spends a night cleaning and butchering the deer he struck on the highway. He is driven by his desire not to  waste the deer; ironically, he is the throwaway husband whom his wife has left for another man.  His triumph in choosing some happiness for himself is the most satisfying of  the three stories.  He manages it while caring for the father he is losing to Alzheimer’s, taking in the son of his abusive next door neighbor, and working to create a warning sign to keep future generations from excavating a nuclear waste site.  The considerations of the group tasked to create the warning provide amusing parallels to the greater theme of the physical and spiritual consequences of treating things and people as though they are disposable.  The only discordant note in this novel comes when freegan/vegan Micah suddenly wants a child; it just doesn’t  fit with her tread lightly on the earth mindset, but  that misstep is easily forgivable amidst this meaty, yet highly digestible book.

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