Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 11/5/2013
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The majority of Jonathan Miles’ second novel, Want Not, is told in three separate stories – a freegan couple dealing with welcoming a third person into their squat; a washed up linguist, attempting to juggle a separation from his wife with his father’s worsening Alzheimer’s disease; and a blended family, made up of a 9/11 widow, the man she married for security and her angst-filled teenage daughter. Natural desire eventually pushes these starkly different characters toward one another in a surprising conclusion.
As its title suggests, want is the central force of the novel, driving the decisions each of Miles’ characters make. Even Micah and Talmadge, the freegan couple pulling bruised produce from dumpsters in New York City, have underlying desires that are picked apart in this dense character study. But those desires are not haphazardly assigned. By the middle of Want Not, the amazing depth at which Miles understands his characters becomes apparent – down to a preferred bathroom stall and carefully plotted childhoods. Miles shares these details not to stretch out the mundane, but to breathe real, vibrant life into his story. And it works. Each player in Want Not’s web feels whole and, as the novel progresses, has a purpose that shows clear.
“At the hard bottom of loneliness, he’d found, there is just a single letter, one bereft of curves and ornament, a short straight line that’s capped on both ends as though to stifle growth and blossoming: I. Merely shifting that to We – two letters, one reaching upward and the other sliding sideways – felt sometimes like enough: just the regular presence of another human, not to cure the pain but to blunt it…”
Where other authors with books of similar structure attempt elaborate schemes to bring their characters together, Jonathan Miles joins his three stories in a natural, believable way. Both hilariously funny and painfully honest, Want Not captures the best and worst of the human spirit in a thoroughly enjoyable read.