Review of “The Portable Veblen” by Elizabeth McKenzie


First, I would like to thank the author, Elizabeth McKenzie, for my now having added squirrels to the already long list of animals (including dogs, cats, cows, pigs and my 4 year old beta fish, Papa) I anthropomorphize upon sight or consideration.

Next, I would like to thank Penguin Press via NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Portable Veblen is a fun read. While I found the first half of the book slow-moving, I enjoyed getting to know the strange and quirky characters,  Veblen and Paul, and their even stranger, quirkier families.

Paul and Veblen are about to get married. Their relationship is a little odd and I never quite got the feeling that Veblen was as excited about the prospect as I would expect. But then again, Veblen is odd. She has some seriously strange habits, including biting herself and typing on a phantom keyboard when she’s stressed, that make talking to squirrels seem pretty normal. Paul, an innovative young neurologist, is an interesting and well thought-out character. I found myself expecting him to be more “normal” than he actually was, however. I’m not sure if that’s because of his promising career or because his quirks were more subtly laid out (for the most part). The strength and depth of their relationship lies in their ability to understand their respective complicated family dynamics which include Veblen’s father’s institutionalization, her mother’s hypochondria and narcissism, and Paul’s difficult, intellectually disabled brother.


The story is told with enough humor and humanity to offset for the weight and seriousness of the issues and provide an enjoyable read.

My rating: 4 stars