Tuesday, February 07, 2017

"Want Not", an exceptional novel from Jonathan Miles

This book was published in 2013.  That was not a banner year here and somehow it was missed at the time.  His first novel, "Dear American Airlines", from 2008, had been a wonderful find then but Miles somehow fell off the radar screen until recently.  It was a treat to discover "What Not", even though late to the party.

Miles has a talent for both astute observation of our world and a way to look at it with finely tuned humor.  "What Not" details the lives of three sets of different people that are interacting with their surroundings in parallel ways, not remotely in the same way but thematically similar.  Talmadge and Micah are a young couple, squatters and dumpster divers on the lower east side of Manhattan, with vastly different backgrounds.  Elwin is a college professor of applied linguistics in a state of mid-life decline --- significantly overweight, deserted by his wife, trying to humor his dying father in a nursing home, and on a national task force that seeks to find ways to mark hazardous waste isolation sites that would exist for thousands of years.  Dave, Sara, and and their teenage daughter Alexis are a wealthy but dysfunctional family supported by a predatory debt collection business whose goals have to some extent been achieved but leaving the daughter completely frayed.

These stories become intertwined near the end of the book, but are linked throughout in their relationship to "stuff", what we own, store, save, hoard, seek, steal, hide, adore, and waste.  The story of Micah and her migration from an isolated upbringing in rural east Tennessee to India, San Francisco, and New York amazingly seems completely possible.  Talmadge's journey from Ole Miss frat boy to Burning Man burn out to the lower east side exists in this book as not improbable.

The other two stories had their own quirks, somewhat normal people leading stressful abnormal lives. To say it all comes together would be incorrect, but the direction is clear.  That's a preferred guess and up to the mind of the reader.


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