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The Portable Veblen
by Elizabeth McKenzie


Overview -

Longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction

Finalist for the Baileys Prize for Women's Fiction

An exuberant, one-of-a-kind novel about love and family, war and nature, new money and old values by a brilliant New Yorker contributor

The Portable Veblen is a dazzlingly original novel that's as big-hearted as it is laugh-out-loud funny.  Read more...


 
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More About The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie
 
 
 
Overview

Longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction

Finalist for the Baileys Prize for Women's Fiction

An exuberant, one-of-a-kind novel about love and family, war and nature, new money and old values by a brilliant New Yorker contributor

The Portable Veblen is a dazzlingly original novel that's as big-hearted as it is laugh-out-loud funny. Set in and around Palo Alto, amid the culture clash of new money and old (antiestablishment) values, and with the specter of our current wars looming across its pages, The Portable Veblen is an unforgettable look at the way we live now. A young couple on the brink of marriage--the charming Veblen and her fiance Paul, a brilliant neurologist--find their engagement in danger of collapse. Along the way they weather everything from each other's dysfunctional families, to the attentions of a seductive pharmaceutical heiress, to an intimate tete-a-tete with a very charismatic squirrel.

Veblen (named after the iconoclastic economist Thorstein Veblen, who coined the term "conspicuous consumption") is one of the most refreshing heroines in recent fiction. Not quite liberated from the burdens of her hypochondriac, narcissistic mother and her institutionalized father, Veblen is an amateur translator and "freelance self"; in other words, she's adrift. Meanwhile, Paul--the product of good hippies who were bad parents--finds his ambition soaring. His medical research has led to the development of a device to help minimize battlefield brain trauma--an invention that gets him swept up in a high-stakes deal with the Department of Defense, a Bizarro World that McKenzie satirizes with granular specificity.

As Paul is swept up by the promise of fame and fortune, Veblen heroically keeps the peace between all the damaged parties involved in their upcoming wedding, until she finds herself falling for someone--or something--else. Throughout, Elizabeth McKenzie asks: Where do our families end and we begin? How do we stay true to our ideals? And what is that squirrel really thinking? Replete with deadpan photos and sly appendices, The Portable Veblen is at once an honest inquiry into what we look for in love and an electrifying reading experience.


 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9781594206856
  • ISBN-10: 1594206856
  • Publisher: Penguin Press
  • Publish Date: January 2016
  • Page Count: 448
  • Dimensions: 8.1 x 6.1 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Literary
Books > Fiction > Humorous - General
Books > Fiction > Contemporary Women

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2015-09-21
  • Reviewer: Staff

A marriage proposal opens this offbeat and winning novel by New Yorker contributor and author McKenzie (Stop That Girl). Thirty-year-old Veblen Amundsen-Hovda, independent behaviorist... and freelance self, has only known Paul Vreeland, a 34-year-old neurologist, for three months. This might explain Veblens feeling of trouble, as if rushing toward a disaster, when she says yes to his marriage proposal. Veblen, a Palo Alto resident, is named for Thorstein Veblen, an economist from the beginning of the 20th century, popularly known for coining the term conspicuous consumption; our heroine Veblen shares some of his concerns and critiques about modern capitalism. Paul, who is finding his footing as a scientist of note and growing ambition (his device for treating traumatic brain injury is fast-tracked by a powerful pharmaceutical company), is anxious to cast off his hippie upbringing and live a life with all the traditional hallmarks of success. We learn the differences between these two at the same time as they do, meeting their eccentric and dysfunctional families for the first time (including Veblens mother, Melanie, a narcissist to end all narcissists), and seeing how they respond to situations that grow increasingly out of their control. McKenzie writes with sure-handed perception, and her skillful characterization means that despite all of Veblens quirksshes an amateur Norwegian translator with an affinity for squirrelsshes one of the best characters of the year. McKenzies funny, lively, addictive novel is sure to be a standout. (Jan.)

 
BookPage Reviews

A little squirrely

That one of the recurring characters in The Portable Veblen is a squirrel tells you much about the experience of reading Elizabeth McKenzie’s clever second novel. Veblen, the 30-year-old protagonist who chats with the squirrel, describes herself as an “independent behaviorist,” translates for the Norwegian Diaspora Project in her spare time and “still favored baggy oversized boy’s clothes.” This novel is like vegetables cut on a bias: slightly skewed, pleasing to look at, and, thanks to its skilled chef, a joy to consume.

Veblen is named after Thorstein Veblen, the early 20th-century economist who “espoused anti-materialistic beliefs,” and is, like her namesake, a nonconformist. She lives alone in a bungalow in Palo Alto, but has fallen in love with Paul Vreeland, an ambitious young neurologist. Although they’ve known each other for only three months, they plan to marry. And Paul has another plan: He’s developing a device that will help medics perform emergency craniotomies on the front lines.

Paul’s device isn’t ready for the field yet, but the Department of Defense is interested, as is Cloris Hutmacher, a Tesla-driving pharmaceutical heiress. As Paul decides whether to enter into business with a firm that is the antithesis of Thorstein Veblen’s writings, he’s also grappling with his hippie parents and an emotionally challenged brother. Veblen’s side of the family presents challenges, too, most notably her mother, a hypochondriac who keeps a typed list of her medical history behind a ceramic bowl filled with pinecones and presents the list to Paul when they’re introduced.

The Portable Veblen has extraneous plot points, but for the most part, this is a funny and well-written novel about family, love and the perils of misplaced ambition. Adding to the experience are the many photographs wittily distributed throughout: Next to the paragraph in which Veblen’s stepfather offers her a chicken burrito is a tiny photo of a stuffed tortilla wrapped in foil. When you know what you’re doing, as McKenzie does here, to go against the grain is no bad thing.

RELATED CONTENT: Read our Q&A with Elizabeth McKenzie about The Portable Veblen.

This article was originally published in the January 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
BAM Customer Reviews