I can say, unequivocally, that The Portable Veblen is the strangest book I’ve ever read. But fun. Oh, so much fun! Author Elizabeth McKenzie’s mind is something to behold; her pen magical. Yet, there is substance to this romantic comedy and messages on many levels.
Veblen Amundsen-Howda is a strange, but lovable young woman who tries to do the right thing. She goes out of her way to please her mother, an over-the-top hypochondriac whose husband is the glue that holds their family together. Her biological father is institutionalized with a mental disorder and, true to Veblen’s nature, she makes every effort to bring joy to his life.
Veblen, who was named after Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), a Norwegian-American economist, draws many of her attitudes and passions from the writer and has a framed picture of him displayed prominently in her home.
Veblen’s financé Paul Vreeland, a brilliant neurologist, has been awarded an important military contract to test brain-damaged patients. When Paul takes Veblen to meet his aging hippie parents, the visit is as bad as he dreads. Trying to keep all these elements—her family, his family and his research project—on an even keel while putting together their wedding is a challenge.
In the meantime, one of the main characters of the book, a squirrel who resides in Veblen’s attic, is her joy, but Paul’s nemesis. It’s hard to imagine, but the squirrel has a surprisingly important role is this story.
For a refreshing change, read this book. As Jeff VanderMeer of the Los Angeles Times says, “It’s wise, deep, and complicated.”