Friday, June 3, 2016

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie

In Palo Alto, a young couple has met, fallen in love and is preparing to marry.   Paul is a brilliant neurologist who has research grants and has invented a device that has the potential to save lives in the military field, or at any accident scene.  His career looks bright.  Veblen is not as career oriented.  In fact, she is adrift.  She works as a temp while pursuing her interests.  One of these is translating Norwegian, which is not actually a high demand language.  Another is her semi-famous forbear, Thorstein Veblen, an economist who eschewed material goods and coined the term 'conspicuous consumption'.  Love of animals, especially squirrels is yet another Veblen obsession.

Each came from a problematic family.  Veblen's mother is narcissistic and demands all the family's attention for her myriad imagined illnesses.  The main thing she taught Veblen was that Veblen's needs and desires were always to be second to those of her mother.  Paul's family was consumed with the care of a child with special needs and Paul felt adrift and neglected.  His family were hippies, full of peace and love and lots of drugs, and Paul is organized and straight-laced in opposition.

As Veblen and Paul start to plan their wedding, their opposing viewpoints of the world emerge.  Soon they start to wonder if the other is too different and too strange to ever have a successful relationship.  It takes a crisis before their questions are answered and they resolve the differences that can tear them apart.

Elizabeth McKenzie has written a charming picture of modern mores and relationships.  Veblen is a free spirit who has broken free of a suffocating family, while Paul has attained the success and prestige he never got as a child.  Together they illustrate what it means to be in love as a millennial.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in relationships.

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