Part of my 2014 resolution list included an increase in reading and a decrease in screen time. I’ve been able to accomplish this goal because of the large amount of hours I’ve been spending in the passenger seat of our family car. Since my last posting, I have finished two novels that I started over the holiday break; both titles were from recommendation from friends. While the two texts are worlds apart, both in content and my approval rating, I am please that I spent the time between those numbered pages and not engulfed in reality TV trash.
Book #1: Want Not by Jonathan Miles
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.
My Rating: First, I love Miles’ writing style. His way with words, allusions, and general storytelling style made me want to read more. And this novel made me appreciate the studying of a book. I highlighted. I underlined. I looked up unfamiliar words. I worked at reading this novel. And it felt good. It felt good to be challenged, linguistically, emotionally, ethically.
Book #2: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.
What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.
Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.
What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.
My Rating: Eh. Not so much. The first thing that I thought of when I started to read this novel was that it reminded me of the Julia Roberts movie, “Dying Young.” Because I felt like I knew this story so well, I felt distracted by the comparisons between the novel and the movie of the same plot line. Sure, there were a few differences, but not many. Also, I felt as though a great portion of this novel could have been cut out. I found myself skimming through the main character/narrator’s whining about missing her old job of serving tea because that was all she ever seemed to be doing in her new care-taking position. I never felt as though there was enough substance behind the narrator’s character to make me feel any sort of sympathy for her. She had no motivation to improve herself and she told the tale of a girl who follows in the footsteps of her boyfriend. His life is her life, and that did not change once Will Traynor interjects his needs into her focus. Speaking of Mr. Traynor, the former dare devil-turned-quadriplegic: it’s very difficult to create a sense of apathy in an audience towards a character who has lost the use of his body and former self, but Moyer did just that. Even after the prescribed awakening that Will Traynor experiences due to the “luminosity” of Lou Clark’s personality and “zest for life,” he remains self centered, sarcastic, and has no second thought to using the people in his life to serve his unwavering needs and desires. None of the characters were dynamic and all seemed to fill a prescribed role, leaving me feeling very little when the reality of Clark’s job description was revealed. If I felt that Moyes’ storytelling was worth picking up another of her novels, I might consider this to be a recycled flop, but the additional 100 pages told me that there was nothing left worth keeping hope for in future reading.