Want Not by Jonathan Miles is a difficult novel to encapsulate. Ostensibly, it is about three seemingly disparate stories: a freegan couple making it in New York, an mid-career professor in New Jersey dealing with his ailing father and odd neighbors, and suburban teenager getting into trouble. But Want Not is also a meditation on consumerism, consumption and the first-world problem of having too much stuff.
There is a certain liberation in owning very little, though the American dream tells us that we should own our house and have all the latest gadgets. Just less than a year ago I divested myself of most possessions. That does not mean that I am a squatter living out of a backpack. I now live in a rented and furnished townhouse (with very little storage space), in a foreign country. We sold almost all of our furniture and possessions before we left Canada. Essentially, we can pick up and move at anytime to anyplace because we do not have anything tying us down. That touches on one of the themes of Miles’ novel: do our possessions make us happy? Or do they tie us down? And what really happens when you don’t want something anymore, whether it is food waste, a certain lifestyle, or relationships?
Want Not is exceptionally well written, though it is not a novel everyone would enjoy. I have not read his previous novel, Dear American Airlines, but i suspect the same is true of it. I must say, however, that after reading Want Not I am interested in doing so. I particularly enjoyed the way everything came together in the end – not one big happy ending, but something much more plausible. And there is such a brilliantly written scene near the end that had me unconsciously squirming so much that my husband asked me what was wrong!
Who would like this book? Want Not is a hard hitting, gritty and philosophical novel. It reveals truths about the world that some may not wish to admit. And dare I say that this makes the novel even a light bit political? On the other hand, Want Not also shares some of the themes that Jonathan Franzen writes about. Both, I think, are concerned about the world in which we, the privileged, live in. From that point of view, I think Want Not could make a very controversial book club pick.