The Portable Veblen goes off the rails a bit at the end. But then again, itâ€™s off the rails pretty much from the beginning. Sometimes it works, sometimes itâ€™s a bit much.
Generally, I like that about a book. If youâ€™ve read Christopher Moore or Tom Robbins, you can appreciate a cast of quirky characters who donâ€™t live by societal norms. Itâ€™s fun to fall into an almost alternate universe, where straight lines become curlicues and weirdos are heroes.
For some reason, itâ€™s a little less organic here. Veblenâ€™s constant conversations with the squirrel seemed a little forced and not as precious as I think theyâ€™re supposed to be. It seems more a portrait of Veblen surrendering to the undertow of insanity thatâ€™s been threatening to pull her under for some time.
The supporting characters are infuriating. Their quirkiness isnâ€™t off-kilter and endearing. Itâ€™s irresponsible and selfish. The author does a good job of giving them some redeeming qualities at the very end, but wow, are they unlikeable.
Itâ€™s always gratifying to see flawed people. Parents, included. There tends to be a stereotype that once kids are in the picture, moms are supposed to become PG-rated, khaki-wearing homebodies and dads become hard-working sources of strength and wisdom. I say phooey to that. Parents are just as multi-layered and flawed as anyone else.
But The Portable Veblen seems to demonize flawed parents. Their imperfections are exaggerated and practically monstrous. It plays into that stereotype – the lack of parental khaki has turned Veblen and Paul into deeply damaged adults. Is there a parent version of madonna/whore?
The author shows Veblen and Paul in this whirling miasma of drama and feelings. But itâ€™s difficult to see Veblen constantly accommodating and making excuses for her parents, who are just terrible.
A couple of scenes seem to exist for shock value, such as the fate of Cloris Hutmacher and a climactic scene with Paul and one of his patients.
Medical terms are strewn about willy nilly. Parts of the book are almost a medical jargon dump.
Having said all of this, The Portable Veblen is a delightful, enjoyable book. It seems like I just ripped it apart, which isnâ€™t my intention.
Itâ€™s a cute, off-kilter story that includes all of the intricately messy complications of life and love and family.