The Portable Veblen: A Novel - Elizabeth Mckenzie

I feel like I need to be come clean on this one. I picked this book because there is a squirrel on the cover. Oddly, I do not really like squirrels when they are racing around my yard, but I do enjoy cute pictures of them and a story about them now and then. So yes, I judged this book by the cover.


If I didn’t know better, I would say that Elizabeth McKenzie and Karen Joy Fowler are sisters, maybe separated at birth, but sisters nevertheless. Their stories, while mostly genre-resistant, seem like-minded in their madcap look at family, relationships, and yes, wild animals. Is it not odd that they both wrote novels that consider the role of a wild animal relevant to their immediate family? Not sure if this comparison has been made amongst the thousands of reviews on Goodreads already, but I’m winging this one and going to say, probably not.


So yes, this is another strange, quirky book, and, if you’ve read any of my other reviews, there’s nothing I like better than that. This one is almost like a science experiment in quirky, but unlike what I remember from my high school classes, there is no control in this experiment to use as a gauge. Everyone is in on the action here. While at times there do seem to be bouts of normalcy, this book for the most part treads right over the line into over-the-top family drama. Really, you can’t blame poor Veblen for anything, I mean, her mother named her after an iconoclastic economist.


McKenzie provides some hilarious comedy here — I actually laughed out loud — though at times I did feel like the plot dragged along. While you may need to check your cynicism at the door, this is also terrific satire of a how a sincere scientific advance can become a medical nightmare when left in the hands of the government. I can’t begin to explain any more than that – read the summary and you probably won’t understand it any better. Just read the book, I promise that if nothing else, you’ll feel distinctly “normal” when you finish.