Jonathan Miles wants you to think about what you waste. He does so by introducing you to Talmadge, who is scoring some day old muffins from a garbage bag. And that’s the beginning of a tender story that weaves together many lives that are coming and going in many different directions. Regardless of their efforts, all of them and, by extension, all of us, are wasted, wasteful, wasting away, and in such desperate want all at the same time.
Want Not, as mentioned, is a novel full of interlocking narratives. Talmadge and Micah live off the grid and outside the system, squatting a New York City apartment, far from their respective homes in Mississippi and East Tennessee. They live without money or power, surviving only with what they can scavenge. Dr. Elwin Cross, Jr. is a linguist who studies dead languages– a scope of waste in and of itself. And while not working, he is trying to salvage all the wasted part of of life, including his marriage, his body, a deer he just hit with his jeep, and a father who is wasting away of Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, Sara is hunting for a roasting pan leftover from her first marriage, which ended on 9/11. She has since remarried and is now wasting time, wasting attention, wasting effort, wasting money on luxury roasting pans and neglecting all her relationships while wanting for them to serve her better.
All that said, it’s a great book– heartfelt and precisely drawn and, when you least expect it, laugh out loud funny. Miles writes real people– even Micah, who could have been a caricature of any number of feminine stereotypes. The characters, wanting and wasting, are any of us and all of us, with just as much and just as little self-awareness. Their perspectives (and literary points of view) are fixed and focused and while the story is rich, none of it reads as unnecessary.
The book starts with long, loving character sketches and a great deal of commitment to the scenery, and to history. The middle of the book is a collections of set up so subtle. And the end, the last third or so of the book, hammers everything into place, with joy and sorrow and terror and utter confusion and peace. As pieces of fiction go, I am glad to have read it, and grateful.