Can we give three cheers for this book, please? And I know I just spoiled the suspense of how I felt about it. I know...what a shame...but, this book is totally worth it.
This month for BBRBF Book Club we read The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie. Actually, it was last month's book, but we ran into a snafu because it was a very hard book to get our hands on! But, again, totally worth it. Make sure to check out Kristina's and Sara Lily's reviews to see if they argee!
The Portable Veblen is about the brand new engagement between Paul and, our heroine, Veblen. They seem well matched, but their engagement is hasty and they both are struggling with the continuing ripples of difficult childhoods. They soon discover they don't know as much about each other as they had thought and fissures start to form as they each go on an individual journey of self-discovery.
There are so many different elements to this book that I honestly didn't think it would be good. You've got family trouble, traumatic childhoods, mental illness and disabilities, military involvement, medical research, economical theories, and squirrels. Yes, squirrels. It's a little daunting at the onset, but I have to give the author enormous credit for masterfully weaving all these distinct and weighty topics into one very cohesive and funny story. I would describe The Portable Veblen as whimsical and thought-provoking, which are not often elements you find in the same book. The writing style was smart and witty. Stringing together philosophy and poetry with a heavy realness. One of my favorite lines is when Veblen describes the diamond on her ring as so big that someone with an aversion to taking pills would avoid it. Having to choke down a giant pill (prenatals, anyone?) is so relatable that we can instantly visualize the diamond as well as feel the underlying discomfort that Veblen feels towards the commitment she just made.
The story itself follows Veblen and Paul as they introduce each other to the familial baggage they each carry. Paul's being hippie parents that raised him on a commune and his mentally disabled brother that he has an intense dislike for and Veblen's being her extremely emotional mother that suffers from hypochondria and a constant need for validation and her father who was verging on abusive during her childhood, but is now institutionalized because of PTSD. Phew...that was ridiculous sentence.
Instead of being able to relate to each other through their scars, they each respond in such jarringly opposite ways that it becomes impossible for them to connect. Veblen has developed a "tend and befriend" coping mechanism and is driven to understand all the intricacies of her mother. Growing up like that led Veblen to exist somewhat on her own plane of reality. She communes with squirrels and obsesses over her namesake, Thorstein Veblen, an economist who rejects consumerism.
Paul though, has forsaken anything to do with his upbringing and dreams only of living in a giant McMansion with his Land's End sweater vest and a big ol' boat in his driveway. Because I loved Veblen's dream of quietly living her life in the cottage she rescued, surrounded by the nature that she related to so much, I could not wrap my head around Paul's materialism and I often found myself rooting against him. Eventually though I did come to see why Paul was so fixated on the perfect suburban life and that realization offered a lot of understanding.
Despite the fact that Paul and Veblen were the main focus, the supporting characters were such a strong element of the story, too. As we explored Paul and Veblen's strengths and weaknesses, we also unwrapped the little gifts that were their families. Particularly Veblen's mom. She was awful, but she was wonderful, too. I hated the way she treated Veblen. The only way that it could be described is downright oppression and manipulation. They're relationship was so one-sided that my heart hurt for Veblen. And still, I understood why Veblen loved her and her antics made me love her too. Not only were the characters complex and multifaceted, but the feelings I got from this book were too. How was this author doing this to me???
On a scale of Total Pile to Masterpiece, I'd give this book a raving Can't wait to Read it Again because it was that Good!
For my outfit, I just emulated the sweat pastels on the cover and added this suede skirt to play the role of the squirrel. And how perfect is this little building I found after taking a wrong turn? It reminded me so much of Veblen's little cottage. If only I could have gotten a squirrel to pose with me.
If you want to read along, next month we are reading Life after Life by Kate Atkinson. Based on the cover I can already image the outfits that will accompany this book!
Cardigan: Thrifted (similar) | Shirt: Torrid (similar) | Skirt: Thrifted (similar, similar) | Shoes: Bait Footwear (similar) | Lips: Colourpop's Ultra Matte Liquid Lipstick in Solow