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The Portable Veblen
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2016 alt.TOB (#2) The Books > The Portable Veblen

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message 1: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie

About the Book: (source: books.google.com)
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 fiancé 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 tête-à-tête with a very charismatic squirrel.

Veblen 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.

About the Author: (source: stopthatgirl.com/the-author/ )
Elizabeth McKenzie is the author of The Portable Veblen, published by Penguin Press and 4th Estate. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology, and recorded for NPR’s Selected Shorts. Her collection, Stop That Girl, was short-listed for The Story Prize, and her novel MacGregor Tells the World was a Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and Library Journal Best Book of the year.

She is the senior editor of the Chicago Quarterly Review and the managing editor of Catamaran Literary Reader.

Author webpage: https://stopthatgirl.com/

Twitter handle: @elmckenzie1
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Happy reading!!


Heather (hlynhart) | 324 comments I'm about mid-way through this novel, and so far I really dig it. I can see where the over-abundance of "quirk" might be off-putting to some readers, though.


JenniferD (jooniperd) | 863 comments i read this a little bit ago, heather -- i loved it!! i agree with you as i can also see how the quirk factor may not work for everyone. but i found it terrific, and it's been a standout read for me this year!


Drew (drewlynn) | 425 comments I was mostly charmed by the quirk factor although I found the inclusion of the photographs to be a little too precious. What did you think? Why did the author choose to include them at all? Why those and not others? Extra burrito, indeed!


Tiffany | 45 comments I really loved this book as well. I was a little worried at the beginning that Veblen was being set up as this "Manic Pixie Dreamgirl" trope, but I thought that McKenzie did a good job of making her and her relationships well-rounded and multi-dimensional.


message 6: by Deborah (last edited Sep 02, 2016 09:58AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Deborah (brandiec) | 113 comments I guess I'm going to be the dissenting voice here. I started out loving Veblen (and the photographs, too), but I gradually lost patience with her and ultimately gave it a begrudging 3 stars.


Amanda (tnbooklover) I'm reading this one right now. I'm really Veblen and dislike Paul but I'm not far into it to see if I will get tired of her. I'll report back when I finish.


Mainon (bravenewbooks) | 91 comments I am really (pleasantly) surprised at how fresh this feels!

It can't just be that Veblen is quirky, because plenty of books try and fail to have quirky but loveable (or quirkily loveable, or loveably quirky) main characters. But I am trying and failing to put my finger on what makes this so refreshing to read. I'm only about 1/4 of the way in, but I'm loving it.


message 9: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments Mainon wrote: "I am really (pleasantly) surprised at how fresh this feels!

It can't just be that Veblen is quirky, because plenty of books try and fail to have quirky but loveable (or quirkily loveable, or love..."


I started going through the quotes that I pulled out and found that they were uniformly either terribly sad or satirically horrific while feeling funny at the same time. It's like a boppy song on the radio that you say "hey, wait a minute!" when you realize what the lyrics say.

case in point:
Was it arrogant to think a squirrel was following you around? Or to think your parents cared about you?



message 10: by Ellen (new)

Ellen H | 800 comments I'd never heard of this book until it was on the Alt-TOB shortlist, and I have to admit to only having chosen to "read" it because it was available on cd from my library and I was taking a long car trip (the other books I "read" for this reason: Sweetgirl, What is Not Yours, and The Guest Room). I've really been charmed by it. I understand it's a book that really should be read in print, so I do intend to get a copy just to see the illustrations, if nothing else.

The other three did not make such a favorable impression on me.


message 11: by Lark (last edited Sep 09, 2016 08:12AM) (new)

Lark Benobi (larkbenobi) | 136 comments I really enjoyed reading this book! Somehow it hit a sweet spot for me where the quirk was so in line with my own thinking that it felt natural and delightful.

Two other books that gave me that feeling are Ladivine and The First Bad Man. They aren't very much alike in tone or much like Portable Veblen but there is something about the internal logic of their quirkiness that works for me and some subset of other readers, but that doesn't work at all for other readers, so you get huge varieties of reaction in reviews.

I don't think authors can try to be quirky. I think quirk needs to be on some level organic, part of who they are.


message 12: by Ellen (new)

Ellen H | 800 comments YES. This is exactly right, poingu. When authors are trying to be quirky, it falls flat, and I end up disliking the book and not knowing why, exactly. I'm trying to think of an example...


message 13: by Judy (new)

Judy (wisdomkeeper) | 80 comments poingu wrote: "I really enjoyed reading this book! Somehow it hit a sweet spot for me where the quirk was so in line with my own thinking that it felt natural and delightful.

Two other books that gave me that f..."

You are the first one to have given me any reason to read this book. Hm...


message 14: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments Judy wrote: "You are the first one to have given me any reason to read this book..."

Oh! Judy, I'd highly recommend it! Alongside some absurdity, this is actually a clever send-up of pharma and the military-industrial complex as well as a not-to-serious reflection on how our parents and partners change and influence us throughout our lives.


message 15: by Judy (new)

Judy (wisdomkeeper) | 80 comments OK Poingu and Amy. I have the book on my shelf from the library. I finished The Girls two days ago and will read The Core of the Sun next to keep up with the tournament. Then tackle Veblen. I am picky about books with animals in them. For instance, I love Watership Down but could not even finish The Art of Racing in the Rain. I loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle but cannot abide the Wind in the Willows.


message 16: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments :) I wasn't a fan of "Racing in the Rain" either.


Heather (hlynhart) | 324 comments poingu nailed it for me. I found the quirk charming because on some level I believed in what Veblen was quirkily saying. It felt truthful and organic to the characters, the quirk did.


Kelly | 28 comments I think the quirk worked for me because it wasn't portrayed as something inherently charming that Paul just had to learn to appreciate. Veblen wasn't perfect - both characters had to grow and change and appreciate and deserve the other. Veblen's quirk was also grounded in her own childhood and the emotional scars of her parents, and she came to a deeper understanding of herself as the novel progressed.

Quirk bothers me when the plot is "straight uptight person has to learn to loosen up and appreciate the delightfully wacky manic pixie dream girl who is perfect just the way she is." I was pleasantly surprised when the book did not turn out that way.


message 19: by Judy (new)

Judy (wisdomkeeper) | 80 comments Kelly wrote: "I think the quirk worked for me because it wasn't portrayed as something inherently charming that Paul just had to learn to appreciate. Veblen wasn't perfect - both characters had to grow and chang..."

You make a good point here Kelly.


message 20: by Nadine in California (last edited Oct 12, 2016 12:43PM) (new)

Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 606 comments Kelly wrote: "Quirk bothers me when the plot is "straight uptight person has to learn to loosen up and appreciate the delightfully wacky manic pixie dream girl who is perfect just the way she is.

You describe exactly my aversion to quirk, so back on my to-read shelf it goes! Shame on me for tossing it after two paragraphs.


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