Hugely funny, insightful, and rather sweet tale of advanced medical technology, San Francisco Bay area (from Paso Robles to Humboldt Couny) socio-economics, love, Thorsten Veblen, Norwegian, and squirrels.
The Portable Veblen
by Elizabeth McKenzie
2016/ 448 pages
Rating: 8 (for the fun) / contemporary fiction
Veblen Amundson-Hovda and Paul (last name?) are engaged to be married, but they have some problems to work out. First, she is a lowly temp worker, a secretary, who works free lance at translations from Norwegian while he is a brilliant medical researcher. Next, she is a great protector of squirrels and other wildlife, while his studies use animals in research testing. Also of serious concern, both families are hugely dysfunctional. Veblen is the only child of a hypochondriacal mother and a man who is hospitalized for psychiatric reasons. Paul’s older brother has some kind of physical and mental disorder while his parents are aging hippies with the associated reliance on pot and other chemicals.
Veblen lives in old Palo Alto where she managed to rent a tiny run-down house on Tasso Street and stay within her budget. Her mother and stepfather live somewhere in the Santa Cruz mountains, while her father resides at a mental hospital in Paso Robles.
Paul lives in an upscale apartment in Mountain View (but moves in with Veblen in Palo Alto) and his work is associated with Stanford in Palo Alto and the Veteran’s Administration in Menlo Park. His parents still live where he grew up in Garberville, near Arcata, a very small old hippy-type town in Northern California.
Paul and Veblen tentatively plan to get married at the Atherton estate of Paul’s new “supervisor,” Cloris Hutmatcher. (Atherton includes one of the top 2 most expensive zip code in the US. It also has a large number of very old homes.)
Both Paul and Veblen struggle with their families. Veblen’s mother is hugely demanding for her hypochondriacal ailments – her issues must always come first. Paul’s parents devote their complete ex-hippie lives and pot-head attention to his older brother who has serious special needs. Paul develops the attitudes of a conservative medical researcher buying completely into the consumer culture while Veblen seems to care more for the squirrels on her property than herself.
This is a really feel-good novel but the reader has to be open to some strange and dysfunctional relationships. I loved it.