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
  • Critics' Opinion:

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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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1

All but one of the black trash bags, heaped curbside on East 4th Street, were tufted with fresh snow, and looked, to Talmadge, like alpine peaks in the moonlight, or at least what he, a lifetime flatlander, thought alpine peaks might look like if bathed in moonglow and (upon further reflection) composed of slabs of low-density polyethylene. Admittedly, his mental faculties were still under the vigorous sway of the half gram of Sonoma County Sour Diesel he'd smoked a half hour earlier, but still: Mountains. Definitely. When he brushed the snow off the topmost bag and untied the knot at its summit, he felt like a god disassembling the Earth.

Micah would surely object to this analogy—the problem with dudes, he could hear her saying, is that y'all can't even open a freaking trash bag without wanting to be some kind of god subjugating the planet—before needling him for making any analogy at all. "You're, like, the only person in the world who overuses the word 'like' the way it's actually meant to be used," she'd once told him. Which was true: He was an inveterate analogizer who couldn't help viewing the world as a matrix of interconnected references in which everything was related to everything else through the associative, magnetizing impulses of his brain. Back in college he'd read that this trait was an indicator of genius or perhaps merely advanced intelligence, and while this had pleased him, he was also aware, darkly, that he'd inherited the trait directly from his Uncle Lenord, which wasn't a DNA strand he longed to advertise. Uncle Lenord, who repaired riding mowers and weedwhackers and various other small-engine whatnots out of his carport in Wiggins, Mississippi, was a fount of cracker-barrel similes—hotter'n two foxes fucking in a forest fire; wound up tighter'n an eight-day clock; drunk as a bicycle; spicier'n a goat's ass in a pepper patch—but no one had ever accused him of genius-level or even advanced thinking. Frankly no one had ever accused him of any thinking whatsoever, with the possible exception of the girlfriend of one of Talmadge's Ole Miss fraternity brothers. She'd interviewed Lenord for a Southern Studies 202 term paper about the effects of clear-cut logging on rural communities, so presumably—since the girlfriend scored a B-plus on the paper—Lenord had been forced to think at least once. He debriefed Talmadge on the interview a few weeks later, when Talmadge was home for Christmas break. "Girl had titties out to here," Lenord confided. "Woulda jumped on that ass like a duck on a Junebug."

With a gloved hand Talmadge sifted through the bag's contents: donuts, Portuguese rolls, kaiser rolls, bagels, cookies, cream horns, Swiss rolls, challah, and muffins. The effluvia of the Key Food bakery department, most of it edible but none of it salable, discharged to the curb. He transferred two of the Portuguese rolls and two pistachio muffins into the burlap satchel he wore messenger-style on his shoulder, and then, remembering that Matty was coming to dinner, added another roll and muffin to the bag. Then one more Portuguese roll, and on second thought another, because he remembered that Matty ate like a pulpwood hauler.

The cream horns were fatally smooshed; otherwise he would've taken three or four. Weed gave him a monumental sweet tooth. He considered the cookies but they were nestled in a wad of paper towels drenched in something blue—Windex, he guessed. The challah was hard as seasoned firewood, and should have, he noted critically, been thrown out the day before. Ditto the bagels, though he didn't care about them, since day-old bagels were his easiest prey. Unger's over on Avenue B had the best ones anyway, and Mr. Unger—testy, fat-jowled, an aproned old relic from the bygone Lower East Side—put out two or three full bags of them nightly. The only problem with those was Mr. Unger himself, who would sometimes charge out of the store to demand payment. Talmadge was always quick to skedaddle but Micah relished the fight. "They're trash," she'd say. "They're my trash," he'd reply. And so on and so forth until Mr. Unger would fling up his arms and shout, "Freeloaders! Freeloaders!" The whole exchange was avoidable since there was a two-hour window between the time that Mr. Unger locked the shop, at seven, and when the Department of Sanitation trucks rolled up at nine, during which time the bagels were free for the loading, but Micah operated on her own narrow terms—angry fat-jowled relics be damned.

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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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