Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Portable Veblen

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie
Penguin Publishing Group: 1/19/16
eBook review copy; 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9781594206856


The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie is a very highly recommended novel about a young couple on the brink of marriage. It is a quirky, humorous, unique novel that encompasses dysfunctional families to personal professional goals to relationships to feelings about squirrels.

Veblen Amundsen-Hovda has accepted the marriage proposal of her boyfriend Paul Vreeland, a 34-year-old neurologist. While the ring seems a little big and Paul doesn't like squirrels the way Veblen does (she talks with them) they are both determined to make this work even though they have only known each other for three months. They still need to meet each other's families.

Veblen is named for Thorstein Veblen, an economist who coined the term "conspicuous consumption," is a temp agency typist and an amateur freelance translator of Norwegian, especially the works of her namesake. Her mother is a hypochondriac and a narcissist. Her step father is a nice guy, but is an enabler and panders to her mother. Her father is institutionalized for mental illness. Veblen is a free spirit who loves typing, talks to squirrels, and tries to gauge her reactions based on what other people are saying or doing. She's fixed up a crumbling house in Palo Alto by herself and made it her own. She admires Thorstein Veblen and his beliefs.

Paul grew up with hippy parents who grew pot and had other people traipsing in and out of the house/commune all the time - not to mention the DEA watching the house.  He always has felt his older brother Justine, who is mentally disabled, was favored by their parents. He is recruited by a large medical corporation with a Department of Defense contract due to his invention of a device that could potentially minimize brain trauma for those in combat situations. Paul is ambitious and driven to succeed, so he accepts the position with its promise of fame and fortune. ( (Admittedly, I wasn't a fan of Paul at the beginning of the book, but quickly began to see his point of view.) 

Now this young couple who have seemingly totally opposite views on life, are trying to navigate the emotional, tense meeting-of-the-parents, as well as their own misgivings over their future. What would you do for love - of another or those in your family?

This is a wonderful, entertaining, extremely well written literary gem. It is quirky, but replete with exquisitely descriptive passages. Adding to the mix are the well-developed cast of characters and all of their incongruous idiosyncrasies.  Interspersed throughout the book are these photos, that are both funny and endearing, placed to illustrate something in the text as simple as a bag of ugly clothes for donation.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Penguin Publishing Group for review purposes.

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