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Veblen is messy, complicated, strange, and very stuck in the mire of a world that doesn’t value her artful, sensitive nature. She’s also about to marry Paul, who’s the picture perfect son–a neurologist drawing a contract from the Department of Defense. He’s successful, upwardly mobile, and in all other ways the picture of American ambition, which would be emblematic of his excellence for almost every other set of parents in the world.
Unfortunately, Paul’s parents are pot growers and nudists who eschewed modern American society to raise their son with hippie values–the type of people who would be proud parents to Veblen, chronically underemployed and blissfully happy with a simple life unmarked by “conspicuous consumption”, a term coined by the philosopher from whom her name derives.
Veblen’s own mother is an overbearing hypochondriac who domineers every aspect of her daughter’s life. She has an opinion about everything, and as the wedding draws closer so too does Paul, who’s beginning to see his future wife’s quirks less as evidence of her charms and more as a roadblock to their future.
Small wonder, then, that Veblen begins talking to the squirrel in her attic, the bane of Paul’s existence but an extremely unlikely ally in her increasingly complicated and anxiety-inducing life.
The Portable Veblen is abound with unanswered questions. When does a quirk become a serious problem? What are the ethics involved when healing trauma with surgery instead of psychiatry? Who are we when we’re separated from our families?
Some of these questions are ones I’ve been wrestling with for a long time, others were brought up in ways I didn’t consider. That’s the beauty of a story that doesn’t tell its readers what to think, merely that they should be thinking.
And that we should, from time to time, consider the counsel of our friendly neighborhood squirrels to get some perspective.