Want Not by Jonathan Miles reminds me of two things. First, while teaching I had my students watch The Story of Stuff and then contemplate the consequences and results of what they saw and how it affected them. Second, whenever I walked the streets of NYC, I was amazed at what people threw out. As I surveyed the trash, I saw building material, furniture, and so much upon which to survive if I needed to. Many times I had taken discarded furniture easily repaired, painted, and restored to good use or interesting boxes or planters. Of course there are the ubiquitous bottles and foodstuffs that would provide money and sustenance if needed. Surviving the mean streets of NYC or any town isn’t impossible. This is my kind of survival book.
There’s Micah and Tal, squatters in NYC living off trash and in an abandoned building in Lower East Side. I agree with the notion that you know more about your neighbors from their trash than what they tell you. This knowledge comes to me as local dogs trash the neighbor’s trash and leave it on my yard where I clean it up and redeposit on their yard. Then there’s Elwin, a large man whose wife left him for a chef but doesn’t want a divorce just autonomy, who destroys the grill of his Jeep when he hits a doe on the way home after staying too long at a bar with a friend whose girl just left him. Elwin was a hunter and decides to haul the dead deer home to field dress it from his suburban home’s fire escape. A neighbor’s drunken son stumbles on Elwin’s work at 2 am and decides to help. Two drunks field dressing a deer in the suburbs at two in the morning. When he finally finishes at dawn, Elwin has not wasted the deer. Finally we meet Sara whose husband, Brian died in the twin towers and she has discovered intense email from Brian’s lover to him and his to her. It is devastating stuff. Brian is quite the man, apparently. Sara has stored stuff in a locker for the past seven years, Brian’s mausoleum. It is Thanksgiving.
Sara’s new husband, Dave, is hilarious until he’s not. Tal’s former college roommate, Matty, is hilarious until he is not. Elwin’s dad is hilarious until he is not. Micah’s Tarzan existence from the get go is interesting and almost enviable, she’s an innocent in a cruel World. There’s a lot of TC Boyle like prose and plot here.
Want Not begins as a lark, a notion that we want from nothing, that we want and don’t know how to say no. Then it becomes about what we don’t want, toxic dumps, babies, food, possessions, lives.