Excerpt from The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Portable Veblen

A Novel

by Elizabeth McKenzie

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie X
The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2016, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2016, 448 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Chapter 2: Sauerkraut and Mace

As it turned out, Paul had gone shopping for more than breakfast.

She watched from the window as he wrestled something from the trunk of his car. Under a clearing sky, a newly minted object threw its shadow onto the walkway, coffin-shaped, about two feet long.

"Oh my god, a trap?" she said, at the door.

"It's my stated goal to keep pests out of our lives," he announced, and she thought nervously of her mother.

"What if we don't agree on what's a pest?"

"Veb, I got no sleep last night. You should be glad I didn't get the guillotine kind." The packaging boldly proclaimed:

Humanely TRAPS, not KILLS:
Squirrels
Chipmunks
Shrews
Voles
and other Nuisance Critters!

"I hate the word critters!" Veblen said, displacing her negative feelings onto an innocent noun.

He persisted, pointing to the fine print. "Look at this."

Squirrels can cause extensive damage to attic insulation or walls and gnaw on electrical wires in homes and vehicles, creating a fire hazard.

"Paul, don't you see, that's propaganda to motivate you to buy the thing."

"But it's true."

"This morning it came to the window - I think it wants to befriend me," Veblen said, quite naturally.

"You can make other friends. This squirrel isn't a character in a storybook. Real animals don't wear shawls and top hats and write poetry. They rape each other and eat their own young."

"Paul, that's an excessively negative view of wildlife."

Nevertheless, he seized the wooden chair from beside her desk, took it through the bathroom door, and dumped it in the bathtub, to stand on it and shove aside the square of white, enameled plywood covering the opening to the attic. She provided him with the flashlight from her bedside drawer. His thighs flexed like a warrior's. A strange little riddle began in her head:

The man pops squirrels, the man pops mice -
(What man? Not Paul?)

With a riddle-me-ree he pops them twice;
(Twice? Isn't once enough?)

He pops his rats with a riddle-me-ree
(Oh no, it is Paul!)

He popped my father and he might pop me.
(How terrible! Was Paul experimenting with squirrels?)

"Nesting materials in the corner," he yelled. "God. Looks like fur on the beams!"

Was this the stuff married life would be made of, two people making way for the confounding spectacle of the other, bewildered and slightly afraid?

"Paul, did you know, the year Thoreau spent at Walden Pond, he spent a lot of time totally enchanted by squirrels?" If squirrels were good enough for Thoreau, after all, what was Paul's problem?

"No, I didn't."

"Have I told you about the great squirrel migrations of the past?" She steadied the chair.

"You must have been saving it up."

"Yeah. Squirrels are actually one of the oldest mammals on earth!" she told him, with curious pride. "They've been in North America at least fifty million years. That's a long time, don't you think? I mean, people brag about their relatives coming over on the Mayflower in 1620, so I think squirrels deserve a little respect, don't you?"

She could see him scanning the corners of the attic for entry holes, and he didn't reply.

"Anyway, settlers and townspeople across North America wrote in their diaries about oceans of squirrels that would flood through the fields and over the mountains, as far as their eyes could see! Can you imagine it? It was like an infinite gray blanket. At times, whole tides of them were seen swimming across rivers, like the Hudson, and the Missouri, and the Ohio. Even Lewis and Clark witnessed a migration! In 1803. In southern Illinois in the 1880s, it was reported that four hundred fifty million squirrels ran through this one area, almost half a billion!"

  • 1
  • 2

Excerpted from The Portable Veblen by Sophie McKenzie. Copyright © 2016 by Sophie McKenzie. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Thorstein Bunde Veblen

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Truthtelling
    Truthtelling
    by Lynne Schwartz
    The word "unsayable" can mean something is too vast to be put into words. Alternatively, it can ...
  • Book Jacket: My Heart Underwater
    My Heart Underwater
    by Laurel Fantauzzo
    Corazon — Cory — Tagubio is a Filipina-American teenager living with her family in ...
  • Book Jacket: Black Sun
    Black Sun
    by Rebecca Roanhorse
    Reading the first book in a series is always difficult because readers know that, by definition, it ...
  • Book Jacket: Somewhere in the Unknown World
    Somewhere in the Unknown World
    by Kao Kalia Yang
    Resettled refugees are mostly invisible. Their needs are rarely publicized and their struggles are ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Smallest Lights in the Universe
    by Sara Seager

    A luminous memoir by an MIT astrophysicist who must reinvent herself in the wake of tragedy.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Exiles
by Christina Baker Kline

The author of Orphan Train returns with an ambitious, emotionally resonant historical novel.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win This Book!
Win Jack

Return to Gilead with Jack, the instant New York Times bestseller

Enter to win Marilynne Robinson's latest novel in her classic series.

Enter


Wordplay

Solve this clue:

I G I O Ear A O T O

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.