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