Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Want Not

by Jonathan Miles

From the critically acclaimed author of Dear American Airlines, a compulsively readable, deeply human  novel that charts the course of three  intersecting lives—a freegan couple living off the grid in Manhattan, a once prominent linguist struggling with midlife, and a New Jersey debt-collection magnate with a new family and a second chance at getting things right—in a thoroughly contemporary examination of that most basic and unquenchable emotion: want.

Format: Hardcover
ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547352206
ISBN-10: 0547352204
Pages: 400
Publication Date: 11/05/2013
Carton Quantity: 12

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A compulsively readable, deeply human novel that examines our most basic and unquenchable emotion: want.  

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

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.

Subjects

Literary

Related Subjects

Fiction

Jonathan Miles

JONATHAN MILES's first novel, Dear American Airlines, was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Best Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. A former columnist for the New York Times, he serves as a contributing editor to magazines as diverse as Field & Stream and Details, and writes regularly for the New York Times Book Review and The Literary Review (UK). A former longtime resident of Oxford, Mississippi, he currently lives with his family in rural New Jersey. Read More


Other Books By The Author


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.

   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.

   R...



"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. As it progresses, ‘Want Not’ so assuredly accumulates power and profundity and momentum that I read the last 200 pages without pause." – Dave Eggers, New York Times Book Review

"[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-" Entertainment Weekly

"Panoramic...For readers who relish extravagant language, scathing wit and philosophical heft, Want Not wastes nothing." Kirkus, STARRED

"With forthright wit and stunning intimacy, Miles doesn’t hesitate to broach the uncomfortable consequences of unchecked abundance and desire. The result is a wild tangle of high-octane, entertaining prose, an astonishing leap for this accomplished novelist."  Booklist

"Before you gird your loins and stuff your birds for Thanksgiving, spend some highly rewarding hours with all the trash and waste in Jonathan Miles’s new novel, WANT NOT." – Bloomberg

"outrageously funny" Ron Charles, WashingtonPost.com

"Whether you’re a chronic hoarder or a censorious neatnik, make room on the shelf for this terrific new book from Jonathan Miles called “Want Not.” Best known for his first comic novel, “Dear American Airlines,” Miles is back with a complex, often hilarious, ultimately moving story about who we are and what we discard — subjects that have always been more intimately linked than we care to admit. “Want Not” is — someone’s got to say it — the best trashy novel of the year....Even as “Want Not” paws through the bones of pre¬history, the wasteland of our modern economy and the ashes of the future, Miles’s elegant and thoughtful voice suggests that all is not lost. The novel may begin with prickly satire, it may dig deep into America’s disposable lifestyle, but it ultimately pivots to scenes of surprising tenderness. Despite our extravagant waste, despite our carelessness with each other, despite that temptation to despair that everything is flotsam and jetsam, Miles offers a heartfelt affirmation of human value. That’s what makes this a novel to hoard." – Washington Post

"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." – New Jersey Star Ledger

"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.' With a title like WANT NOT you'd think its author, if not the book's characters, might agree. 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?" – The Oregonian

"WANT NOT, the sophomore effort of Jonathan Miles, author of the much-praised comic rant of a novel DEAR AMERICAN AIRLINES, does not disappoint. WANT NOT leaps nimbly from topic to topic, each sentence providing a miniature window into its author's energetic and wide-ranging mind: from freeganism to conspicuous consumption; from Manhattan's Alphabet City to residential New Jersey to the backwoods of Tennessee; and from neighbors with nothing but geographical location in common to sisters who share nothing but blood….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." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"rapturous prose [and] the blend of ideas and characters...result in a novel that’s sharp and occasionally breathtaking." – Time Out New York

"With a large set of people to get to know in the novel, and all of them compelling, Jonathan Miles delivers his second novel WANT NOT with a great big smile. Funnier than ever the author, acclaimed for his DEAR AMERICAN AIRLINES, loves to go off on a tangent and wander along with just his prose as a tiny flashlight in the woods. – Edge Media


"This is a novel with a strong point of view, but it’s far from a polemic. Miles is as funny as he is observant, and he allows us to laugh at ourselves as he forces us to look at some of the more unattractive aspects of humanity. This is a hard novel to pitch in a few sentences, but it’s an easy one to recommend. Simply put, it’s one of the best of the year." – BookRiot

"With a light Midas touch, Miles turns all the glut and ache of late America into pure gold. 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." – Joshua Ferris, author of The Unnamed and Then We Came to the End

"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; or, as one of his many memorable characters puts it, 'garbage [is] the only truthful thing civilization produced.' 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." – Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and Brief Encounters with Che Guevara "Want Not, Jonathan Miles’ brilliant and original take on a cultureoursthat mindlessly seems to squander all that is dear, 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." Helen Schulman, author of This Beautiful Life and A Day at the Beach