Want Not / Jonathan Miles

I recently read Jonathan Miles’ debut novel, Dear American Airlines, which so impressed me that I sought out his next (and most recent) work of fiction, Want Not. What I loved about his first book was how the author excelled at creating a character that rang so true to life, and his ability to humorously present a story while not sacrificing its seriousness. All of these qualities are on full display as well in Want Not, where he expands the focus from one character to many.

While billed as a novel, Want Not is actually three interweaving novellas. One story centers around a young “freegan” couple living off the grid in New York City. Even though they live in a squat and dumpster-dive for food, it is not because poverty has driven them to do so. Rather, they see it as form of protest against the waste generated by modern society. The second centers around a self-made debt collecting magnate, his wife who lost her first husband in the 9/11 attack, and her teenage daughter who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome. They live surrounded by possessions, and yet, a lack of communication has isolated each of them in separate silos with their secrets and unexpressed longings.

The third story is my favorite, thanks to its main character, Elwin Cross. Overweight (obese actually), he is a linguist who, at mid-life, finds himself in the dissolution of his marriage while dealing with a father who is losing his battle against Alzheimer’s. Cross is not your usual leading man in books, but he is a true star here and won my heart immediately. The three stories could easily stand on their own, however, they do subtly intersect in the book’s final sections.

The thread that ties all three stories is the issue of human excess and the detritus of past lives that the characters are burdened with. Each is haunted by a hunger that possessions can never sate. If this sounds grim, rest assured these stories are a pleasure to read. Miles is a gifted satirist, able to draw out the comedy of contemporary life and all its ironies. Yet he is a romantic at heart, and he never makes fun of his characters. My only complaint is the book’s inconclusive ending left me wanting more. But that only goes to show how involved I’d become in the lives presented in Want Not. I will certainly be keeping my eye out for the next work Jonathan Miles shares with the world.

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