2016 National Book Award Longlist, Fiction

Elizabeth McKenzie

The Portable VeblenElizabeth McKenzie
The Portable Veblen
(Penguin Press/Penguin Random House)
ISBN: 978-1594206856

National Book Foundation: Who did you write this book for?
Elizabeth McKenzie: I’m not sure who it was written for. I think it depended on what day it was. I guess you’re always hoping you’re doing something that will connect with somebody out there. There’s a certain darkness at the core of the book that emerged from world and personal events and was “the what” maybe more than “the who.” I thought about a lot of people I’d loved and cared about while working on it, including a few struggling with mental illness, as well as an animal or two and a sort of collapsing telescope compendium of my earlier selves. Writing the novel was often like having conversations with people who are gone and who I miss.


The Portable Veblen is a dazzlingly original novel that’s as big-hearted as it is laugh-out-loud funny. Set in and around Palo Alto, amid the culture clash of new money and old (antiestablishment) values, and with the specter of our current wars looming across its pages,The Portable Veblen is an unforgettable look at the way we live now. 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.

About the Author

Elizabeth McKenzie’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology, and recorded for NPR’s Selected Shorts. Her collection, Stop That Girl, was short-listed for The Story Prize, and her novel MacGregor Tells the World was a Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and Library Journal Best Book of the year. She is the senior editor of the Chicago Quarterly Review and the managing editor of Catamaran Literary Reader.


- stopthatgirl.com

- TWITTER: @elmckenzie1


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