Book Review: WANT NOT by Jonathan Miles

Want NotWant Not by Jonathan Miles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

WANT NOT is a novel of ideas which nevertheless has plenty of compelling characters and some witty writing. It is told from the alternating points of view of three unrelated family groups: a young “freegan” couple squatting in an abandoned NYC building and getting all they need to survive by Dumpster diving; a discontented suburban upper-middle class family whose patriarch makes money by collecting debts from irresponsible spenders; and a fat linguistics professor whose wife has dumped him and who is involved in a project to create a warning sign for nuclear waste that will be comprehensible to people 10,000 years from now. As is often the case with stories told from multiple points of view, some of the plot lines are more compelling than others. I found Tal and Micah, the freegan couple, to be fascinating and touching in their idealistic desire to reject consumerism and live a pure life, but also fascinating and repulsive in the actual details of Dumpster diving. The suburban family was funny/sad, especially the very unconventional relationship between Dave, the stepfather, and Alexis, the sullen teen. The author has achieved something memorable in creating Dave: an a**hole with a heart of gold! The least convincing character for me was Elwin, the professor. His parts of the story dragged, he was pathetically annoying, and his project to warn the world of the dangers of nuclear waste, although apparently true (according to the author’s endnotes) seemed to be overkill in adding “message” to the book. I get it, Mr. Miles: we consume too much, waste too much, and receive and give too little joy. No need to hammer me over the head. However, that’s my only quibble. I will end by saying that Alexis’s scene near the end was so riveting and so accurately captured the twisted thought process of a teenage girl that I was amazed (and very impressed) that it was written by a man too young to have parented a teenager. Good show!
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