Summary and book reviews of Want Not by Jonathan Miles

Want Not

by Jonathan Miles

Want Not
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Nov 2013, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2014, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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About this Book

Book Summary

A compulsively readable, deeply human novel that examines our most basic and unquenchable emotion: want. With a satirist's eye and a romantic's heart, Miles captures the morass and comedy of contemporary life in all its excess.

With his critically acclaimed first novel, Jonathan Miles was widely praised as a comic genius "after something bigger" (Los Angeles Times) whose fiction was "not just philosophically but emotionally rewarding" (New York Times Book Review).

Now, in his much anticipated second novel, Want Not, Miles takes a giant leap forward with this highly inventive and corrosively funny story of our times, a three-pronged tale of human excess that sifts through the detritus of several disparate lives - lost loves, blown chances, countless words and deeds misdirected or misunderstood - all conjoined in their come-hell-or-high-water search for fulfillment.

As the novel opens on Thanksgiving Day, readers are telescoped into three different worlds in various states of disrepair - a young freegan couple living off the grid in New York City; a once-prominent linguist, sacked at midlife by the dissolution of his marriage and his father's losing battle with Alzheimer's; and a self-made debt-collecting magnate, whose brute talent for squeezing money out of unlikely places has yielded him a royal existence, trophy wife included.

Want and desire propel these characters forward toward something, anything, more, until their worlds collide, briefly, randomly, yet irrevocably, in a shattering ending that will haunt readers long after the last page is turned.

With a satirist's eye and a romantic's heart, Miles captures the morass and comedy of contemporary life in all its excess. Bold, unblinking, unforgettable in its irony and pathos, Want Not is a wicked, bighearted literary novel that confirms the arrival of a major voice in American fiction.

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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Want Not affirms the validity of human stories in spite of the seemingly overwhelming problem of wastefulness. What we waste, what we create accidentally, what we accumulate: these can all form a sort of physical legacy. Like Miles's characters, readers must recognize that true value is based not in what we hoard or what we throw away, but in the ties we form in life.   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

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Media Reviews

New Jersey Star Ledger

What is extremely apparent...is Jonathan Miles’ extraordinary talent. Where so many writers are impressionists, Miles is more of a photo realist....Miles presents such fully developed characters, you come to know their essences.

The Oregonian

When prompted to offer up a pithy description of life on Planet Earth for future generations, one might be tempted to filch a line from a character in Jonathan Miles'second novel: 'We came, we saw, we trashed.'...But what makes Miles' new book (after the much lauded Dear American Airlines so luminous and so resonant is what it asks instead: Or did we?

Entertainment Weekly

[a] shrewd, funny, and sometimes devastating new novel….What Want Not does best, though, isn't plotting but portraits of humanity: the small epiphanies and private hurts of every person whose life, like the detritus they produce, is as beautifully mundane and unique as a fingerprint. A-

New York Times Book Review

I loved this book…Jonathan Miles can write, and here he’s written a wonderful book, and there’s no one I would not urge to read it….This is the work of a fluid, confident and profoundly talented writer who gets more fluid, more confident and seemingly more talented even within the book itself.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sitting down with Want Not is like finding yourself opposite the most interesting person at a dinner party. It pulls you in immediately; makes you shake your head in wonder and delight at your new companion's wit, originality, and compelling turns of phrase; and, best of all, surprises you into laughter.

Publishers Weekly

Though an excess of backstory and character detail sometimes slows the book's pace, mordant humor and a well-constructed plot manage to hold together Miles's sophomore effort.

Library Journal

Despite a somewhat implausible denouement (which links the storylines in a spectacular fashion), the novel stuns with a remarkable array of characters that will get readers thinking about 'stuff' and what excess remains.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. For readers who relish extravagant language, scathing wit and philosophical heft, Want Not wastes nothing.

Booklist

[A] wild tangle of high-octane, entertaining prose, an astonishing leap for this accomplished novelist.

Author Blurb Joshua Ferris, author of The Unnamed and Then We Came to the End
If you're in that soul-hunt up the food chain and down the dial for something more satisfying than the hollow abundance of our contemporary lives, read this book. It is warm, complex, comic, honest, and never flinching. Want Not wastes not a word, while its pleasures are endless.

Author Blurb Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk and Brief Encounters with Che Guevara
In this powerful, blisteringly funny novel, Jonathan Miles makes a startling discovery: We are what we throw away. It's in our castoff goods, edibles, chances and people that our authentic selves are revealed...Miles mines the depths of waste so artfully that by the end of this extraordinary novel, we're left with the suspicion that redemption may well be no more, and no less, than an existential salvage operation.

Author Blurb Helen Schulman, author of This Beautiful Life and A Day at the Beach
[Want Not] is as witty as it is mind-blowing and eye-opening. The combination of high-octane prose and Miles' compassion for his characters make for a novel that stirs the collective conscience. A clear-eyed, exuberant entertainment.

Reader Reviews

Eva Thury

Brings together different worlds
This is a novel that is both satirical and serious. It gives you characters you can sympathize with as well as laugh at. It cleverly intertwines the seemingly different worlds of a linguist who serves on a government panel, a sleazy businessman and a...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Food Waste

Food waste, one of the key issues underlying Jonathan Miles's Want Not, is a problem that is beginning to draw more attention worldwide. Every year American households and retailers throw away 40 million tons of usable food. In early 2013 the UK Institution of Mechanical Engineers issued a report, entitled "Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not," which estimated that 30-50% of food produced worldwide goes to waste. This is due to a combination of factors including supermarkets' strict aesthetic standards for produce, restaurants' super-sized portions, consumers buying more than they need or not using food in time (often spurred by buy-one-get-one-free deals), and inefficient methods of food harvesting and transportation in developing nations. ...

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