By Rachel Popa
When reading “The Portable Veblen” by Elizabeth McKenzie, a reader can easily come to the conclusion that Veblen Amundsen-Hova, the novel’s namesake, is a little squirrely – in more ways than one.
Firstly, she is obsessed with squirrels (the novel comes complete with an index on squirrel species to show for it) and talks to them as well. She frequently corresponds with a particular squirrel that lives in the attic of her house, usually about her concerns relating to her impending marriage.
Veblen’s fiance, Paul Vreeland, is a neurologist working on a device for the U.S. military that helps treat head trauma on the battlefield. Both characters come from dysfunctional families; Veblen has a mildly narcissistic mother who is also a hypochondriac, and Paul is the child of free-spirited and slightly unhinged hippie parents. One has to wonder why Paul finds Veblen to be “the only woman for him,” when she is about as quirky as his parents, which he deplores.
However, the banter between Veblen and Paul as well as the gradual realization about their conflicting personalities makes “The Portable Veblen” as funny as it is heartwarming. McKenzie’s writing is clever, enlightening and truly hysterical, complete with musings about whether or not water or trees fret about the madness of the world.
Also tucked within the pages of the novel are pictures describing the dilemmas that the characters face, whether it be a bag of ugly clothes or a wombat couple. These strange, offbeat details coupled with the dysfunctional characters make “The Portable Veblen” a lovable and unique read.