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.
Set in Palo Alto, California, The Portable Veblen is the story of family, career, and values. Veblen—who was named after the iconoclastic economist Thorstein Veblen, who coined “conspicuous consumption”—is engaged to Paul, a doctor who specializes in brain trauma for military veterans.
While their engagement is in danger of collapse, Veblen is dealing with the burdens of her narcissistic mother, as well as her institutionalized father. Meanwhile, Veblen is taking on temp work, including her being a freelance Norwegian translator. Paul, too, has to maintain his sanity while dealing with his inattentive parents and disabled brother, at the same time, while working toward a device which is supposed to minimize brain trauma. The invention lands him a deal with the Department of Defense. Because of the deal, Paul’s ambitions are soaring, as he is promised fame and fortune.
As the wedding day is approaching, Veblen and Paul have to deal with their dysfunctional families, career paths, and a charismatic squirrel. At the same time, they both have to ask: How do we stay true to our ideals?
Although I liked the idea of the story, it didn’t work for me. I didn’t dislike it; however, it could have been better, in my opinion. I feel there were too many conflicts and flashbacks. Veblen has her quirks, especially her obsession with communicating with squirrels, but it didn’t really catch my attention. However, I did like that there was a bit of Norwegian in some parts of the story. I’m fascinated with the language and I’m studying it, little-by-little. In the meantime, I’ll give this book three stars. Perhaps you’ll feel differently about the book than I, so feel free to check it out.
The Portable Veblen will be on sale, on January 19, 2016.
*I received this Advance Reading Copy from Penguin Random House and Shelf Awareness for an honest review.
About the author: Elizabeth McKenzie is the author of That Girl and MacGregor Tells the World. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. She received her MA from Stanford, was an assistant fiction editor at The Atlantic, and currently teaches creative writing at Stanford’s school of continuing studies.