The Portable Veblen

The Portable Veblen Cover

The Portable Veblen

By Elizabeth McKenzie

Penguin Press, Hardcover, 9781594206856, 448pp.

Publication Date: January 19, 2016

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.

Tuesday, Jan 26, 2016

Elizabeth McKenzie's new novel about the pitfalls of approaching marriage is a sharply written romantic comedy with elements of experimental fiction. Maureen Corrigan calls it "totally endearing." More at

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