Synopses & Reviews
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.
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
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.
“McKenzie has crafted a story that beneath an entertaining, clever
surface, is deep and wise and complicated….With so light a touch and yet
more serious and beautiful and relevant than many a weightier novel, The Portable Veblen has the feel of an instant, unlikely classic.” Jeff VanderMeer in the Los Angeles Times
“A literary novel with a squirrel subplot may sound improbable, yet
McKenzie adroitly skirts the line between plausible and the absurd.
Veblen, the book’s heart and spirit, wins us over with her sense of
wonder about the natural versus the man-made world — a wonder that
suffuses the entirety of this quirky, engaging novel.” —The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Elizabeth McKenzie is the author of a collection, Stop That Girl, short-listed for The Story Prize, and the novel MacGregor Tells the World, a Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and Library Journal Best Book of the year. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and the Pushcart Prize anthology, and has been recorded for NPR’sSelected Shorts.
She was an NEA/Japan US-Friendship Commission Fellow in 2010. 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.