Welcome to the second installment of the BBRBF Book Club! If you missed our first read, click here, and be sure to check Sara Lily’s and Noelle’s blogs for their reviews! If you want to join us, next month we’ll be reading Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.
This book review was difficult. Not because I didn’t like the book, but because I nearly didn’t get the book. When Sara first suggested The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie, I did what I always do and checked my local library to see whether the current holds on it were crazy, or if I could get it right away. When I checked, there were nearly 30 holds on the book — and if for some odd reason you don’t know what that means, it means I was 30th in line to get it. I tentatively put it on hold and hoped that I would get it by April. But as we got closer and closer to our third Thursday in April, Veblen‘s wait list was not budging.
So I decided to buy it. I went on Barne’s and Noble’s site and saw that someone was selling The Portable Veblen for $3 plus shipping. I jumped at the chance, excited to have snagged the novel for so cheap when everywhere else the physical copies were around $20. The book arrived, and…
… it was the wrong book.The Portable Veblen, by Thorstien Veblen, was not The Portable Veblen that I wanted. Bewildered that there could be two books with such a unique title, I decided to wait it out, and we pushed our review date off to May. But May came around and still the wait list at the library was moving slowly. Too slowly. But then we realized that Kindle lets you lend books! So Sara, having the kindle version, quickly checked to see if she could send me her version.
But no. Veblen was not available for lending. So I caved in. I signed up for a free trial of Audible, and I chose the audiobook. I hate listening to audiobooks. I read far swifter than most people read, and I can’t concentrate when I don’t have the actual words running before my eyes. But it was better than nothing, and in my quest to save money I figured I could muddle through this one book.
And then I heard her voice. Readers, I am not a judgemental person. I have my opinions like everyone else, but I’m pretty forgiving to most faults. But this voice. Whomever read The Portable Veblen for this audiobook, I apologize, but this voice was like listening to a snobby GPS who spoke through its nose with nasally disdain for every word, and could only read at one mile per hour. I hated the book because this voice was so irritating. I’m sure if I knew the person reading it, I wouldn’t hate her voice, but I’m so sorry whomever you are: please don’t ever, ever read me any books.
So, because I didn’t want my opinion of the book to be influenced by my nails-on-a-chalkboard reaction to the voice reading it, I put off listening. I waited, and waited, and waited, and hoped that the library would magically alert me that my copy was finally available to pick up. And then I realized that it was Friday and my review was due the following Thursday. I scrambled for an idea, poked around online, found a few paperback copies that were around $13, and despaired: the shipping arrival date of all of the copies I found was June. I needed it by today! That just wouldn’t do. So I finally broke down and bought the Kindle version, which is something I rarely do because I prefer holding books and smelling the pages and caressing the paper and… I just like books, okay? In a fury, I read The Portable Veblen over the weekend and the beginning of the week. Triumphantly, I finished it yesterday morning and assembled my outfit, photographed these photos, and here we are today.
So, before we dive in to my review, here’s a snippet of the summary via Goodreads:
“A young couple on the brink of marriage—the charming Veblen and her fiancé Paul, a brilliant neurologist—find their engagement in danger of collapse. Along the way they weather everything from each other’s dysfunctional families, to the attentions of a seductive pharmaceutical heiress, to an intimate tête-à-tête with a very charismatic squirrel. ”
I didn’t really know exactly what to expect when I was reading; I didn’t read the summary, and I dove in purely because Sara had chosen it and I know she has good taste in books. I was, at the very least, expecting it to be an intelligent, witty book as Sara has the ability to choose excellently written books in that respect.
And when I read the first few pages, my inner reading voice was still tainted by Miss Snobby GPS, so I was really afraid I wasn’t going to like the book. But the further in I got, the more I liked it. Veblen and Paul get engaged in the beginning. She seems to be quite unsure of the union, while he is over the moon that she acquiesced and reminds her of all the silly things she does that he loves. As the story goes on, we discover that Veblen’s mother is a classic hypochondriac whose controlling and volatile emotions have trained Veblen to tamp down whatever reactions she might have and act as the calm antithesis to her mother’s personality to keep life level.
She grew up a bit lonely, talking to squirrels and idolizing Thorstien Veblen for whom she was named, bit her arm whenever she was too upset but didn’t want to argue, and dreaded visiting her father, who was possibly abusive and constantly dragging her down for her quirks.
Paul, conversely, has two very supportive — if a bit hippie — parents, and a mentally disabled brother, all of whom he despises. He grew up under the shadow of his disabled older brother, and resents the fact that all of his parents efforts in their childhood were seemingly only for the betterment of Justin. Where Veblen values her relationship with her mother and is constantly bowing to Melanie’s every whim, Paul wants to throw off the ties of family and escape from the shadows of his childhood.
As they navigate planning a wedding around their dysfunctional families and the difficulties of having a mentally disabled brother and a hypochondriac, volatile mother, they find that they don’t quite know each other as well as they thought they did, and things begin to fall apart. Veblen latches on to a squirrel she begins to see as a friend and guardian angel, and Paul spirals downward in his view of his beloved fiancee while in his professional life, things seem to be working in his favor.
I didn’t expect Thorstien Veblen — whose copy of The Portable Veblen arrived at my door by my mistake — would be such a large part of the novel, but it is on his life and values that Veblen bases many of her actions and her own ideas about life. He shunned modern contraptions and consumerism, so in the same manner she clings to the house that she bought in shambles and fixed up and feels uneasy about Paul’s involvement in the money-making industry of modern medicine. Their ideas of how their wedding should be differ vastly; she wants simple, he wants ornate. His pride is tickled by the attention he recieves from one very affluent Cloris Hutmacher, while Veblen increasingly resists his hopes to have their wedding in Cloris’s proffered incredibly rich house.
He meets her mother and her stepfather, and after seeing how manic her mother can get, attempts to connect by offering the woman a clinical trial. Veblen, however, sees this as his acknowledging that her mother is a total nut, and reels with the realization that no one will ever truly love her mother as she does. She meets his family and wants to love them wholly, but Paul is insulted at her attempts to endear his family to him.
Throughout the entire book, the question is one that nearly all romances pose: will they, or won’t they? Will their differences tear them apart, or bring them together? Will their families sabotage their relationship, or strengthen it? Will they realize they are perfect for each other, or all wrong?
The tone of The Portable Veblenis a very gritty, real tone; I enjoyed the wit and intelligence as expected, and the multiple problems that Veblen and Paul face were at once unique and relatable. Though I did not grow up in a family who let random hippies crash in their home, nor did my father turn out to deteriorate mentally and no longer know himself or his child, I could still relate to the struggle of discovering things about yourself you didn’t know, and seeing the person you love in an entirely new light.
Top, shoes, and belt, thrifted | Skirt and brooch, vintage
And I really enjoyed the fact that the squirrel on the cover had a lot to do with the plot of the book. Obviously, I had to wear my nut brooch for this outfit, and I thought that the colors in this skirt perfectly matched the teal, pink, and yellow in the design. Luckily, I took these outfit pictures before eating lunch, because right as I finished up my fish and chips, I dropped my fork on my skirt and got a massive oil stain on it. Thankfully, it came out with some good old dish soap, but… like I needed one more thing to happen to this book review.
I hope you enjoy The Portable Veblen if you read it! If you’re sensitive to content, I will warn that there is a losing-virginity story in this book, as well as a smattering of curse words and some drug use in Paul’s childhood. I’m not super fond of sex in books so that would be my one point against Veblen, but that was a very small part of the whole story and it’s easy to skip over.