Excerpt from Want Not by Jonathan Miles, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Want Not

by Jonathan Miles

Want Not by Jonathan Miles
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2013, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2014, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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After retying the bag and replacing it onto the heap, Talmadge went about frisking the other bags. He was after the pleasant dumpy squish that meant produce, which he found after several gropings. He wrestled the bag off the pile—it was unusually heavy, suggesting melons—and opened it on the sidewalk.

"Five dollars," he heard someone say. One of the canners at the bottle-redemption machines, about six yards down the sidewalk: a hunched, skittery black guy in a long charcoal overcoat, no taller than five-foot-five though possibly five-foot-ten if he would or could stand up straight, and while he looked about eighty—owing partly to his posture, but also his rheumy eyes which were capped with the kind of wildly unkempt and woolly gray eyebrows one saw in portraits of nineteenth-century lunatics—he was probably closer to sixty. With an empty plastic bag hanging from his hand, he was staring at the machine marked cans as if squaring off against it in a brawl.

"Five fucking dollars," he said to it. He looked to his left, where a short, disfigured Chinese woman was waiting with a can-filled handcart and where another canner Talmadge called Scatman—grizzly-sized from the multiple overcoats he was wearing, and sporting his trademark vintage earphones—was feeding a huge cache of Evian bottles into the maw of the plastics machine; then to his right, where Talmadge was watching him with an opened bag of mucky produce at his feet; and then finally upward to where a sign, perched above the bank of machines, read automatic redemption center. Talmadge had once suggested, jokingly, that he and Micah ought to transplant the sign to the Most Holy Redeemer Church around the corner on 3rd Street. She didn't think it was funny but then funny wasn't her thing.

Scatman wasn't scatting. Usually he serenaded his deposits, and accompanied his collecting, with mumbled scat-singing, or something resembling it: skippity dip da doo, bop de-diddlee, bam bam bam. Hence the nickname. Talmadge wasn't sure whether Scatman's vinyl-covered earphones—padded and brown and big as coconut halves—were related to the scatting, or if indeed they were even connected to anything, but he'd never seen Scatman without them, in warm weather or cold, so he supposed they served some function. As for the Chinese woman: Talmadge knew her, or was anyway familiar with her. She was a part-time canner who walked a fixed route in the early evenings, plucking cans out of the corner trash barrels with a plastic, purple-and-lime green pincing tool of the kind sold in toy stores. Their paths crossed often enough that she and Talmadge would sometimes acknowledge each other with a flick of eye contact or more rarely a nod. He called her Teeter, because the grievous shortness of one of her legs caused her to teeter down the street. But Hunch, and his five dollars—he was someone new.

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Excerpted from Want Not by Jonathan Miles. Copyright © 2013 by Jonathan Miles. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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