Written by on February 21, 2014

Want Not, by Jonathan Miles

Anyone who can embroider a letter of complaint into a great tragicomic novel is worth following, in my book. So when I heard that Jonathan Miles (author of Dear American Airlines) had a new one out, my page turning finger started to itch.

His latest, Want Not, has the theme of waste uniting three very different story lines. This could easily have turned into an overly earnest, guilt-inducing screed — and, while some of the facts you pick up in this book about the extent of waste in the U.S. are truly breathtaking, Miles’ skills keep it securely balanced between thought-provoking and funny.

The three story lines:

– Talmadge and Micah, a young “freegan” (i.e. dumpster-diving for food, anti-consumerist) couple, squatting in a boarded-up building in Manhattan

– Elwin Cross, Jr., a soon-to-be-divorced linguist, serving on a committee to develop a warning for a nuclear waste storage facility — a warning that should be understandable to the next 400 generations of humans, should we last that long

– Dave Masoli, a self-made debt collection millionaire

9780544228085_p0_v1_s260x420But that’s just the skeleton. Miles’ secondary characters are as meaty and well drawn as the primary ones: Matty, Talmadge’s only frat brother friend from college, who tries to ingratiate himself with the freegans by bringing home stolen, rather than salvaged Ho Hos (“No one throws Ho Hos out. That shit’s got the shelf life of chainsaw oil.”); Christopher, the sad sack son of Elwin’s next door neighbor, who makes it his life’s work to repair and then trick out Elwin’s totaled Jeep; Dave Masoli’s trophy wife, a 9/11 widow who has the sinking feeling that Dave loves the breast implants he bought her for Valentine’s Day more than he loves her. And that’s not even getting into the back story on what made Micah a freegan: she was raised by a religious fanatic father, off the grid, and away from anything resembling civilization. Watching Miles connect these characters’ story lines is pure fun.

author photo: Erika Larsen

Read more on fiction and Jonathan Miles.

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