Elizabeth McKenzie packs a lot into her latest novel, The Portable Veblen. It’s a commentary on mindless consumerism and the questionable ethics of big pharma. It’s the story of two wonderfully developed and complicated people on the brink of marriage and of their equally developed dysfunctional families. It’s about the choices people make almost unconsciously and about questioning societal norms. It’s the story of a squirrel! Veblen is a charmingly damaged character who chooses a simple life with its simple pleasures. McKenzie never makes you feel sorry for the way she’s learned to deal with an overbearing, pathologically narcissistic mother who is also a hypochondriac with a genius I.Q. Her fiance, Paul is a brilliant neurologist who is rebelling against his upbringing by radically anti-establishment parents and takes a job with a huge pharmaceutical company. He also nurses a grudge against his brain damaged brother whose needs overshadowed Paul’s childhood. When he begins to consider the humanity of the families and the severely wounded veterans involved in the trial he is conducting and to question the motives of his employer, his world view is rocked. It is further shaken when he overhears a conversation Veblen is having with someone he believes to be a rival and is, in reality, a squirrel. Will the couple be able to overcome their pasts and a murderous boss? In a nutshell (pun withstanding), this story is refreshing and wry, and I will miss these endearing characters.
I’m reserving McKenzie’s previous books now: