Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Portable Veblen, in Conversation with Peter Ferry, author of Old Heart
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.
Throughout, Elizabeth McKenzie asks: Where do our families end and we begin? How do we stay true to our ideals? And what is that squirrel really thinking? Replete with deadpan photos and sly appendices, The Portable Veblen is at once an honest inquiry into what we look for in love and an electrifying reading experience.
“The Portable Veblen is the squirreliest novel I ever read. I enjoyed it completely.” – Ursula K. Le Guin, author of The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness.
“The Portable Veblen is an authentically strange—and genuinely funny—depiction of how the dysfunctions of childhood stubbornly follow us into adulthood.” – Teddy Wayne, author of The Love Song of Jonny Valentine and Kapitoil.
Old Heart is the story of eighty-five year old Tom Johnson as pieced together and told by his granddaughter Nora. As the story opens, Tom has run away from his children who want him to move to a retirement home. We learn that as a GI in World War II, he fell in love with a young Dutch woman named Sarah, but that after the war they were separated by circumstance and misunderstanding. By the time he realized this, he had returned home, married Julia and had a child named Tony born with Down syndrome. Tom’s wife is a complicated, wounded person, and they have a difficult relationship.
It falls to Tom to raise Tony and in the process they become soul mates. But when Tom has retired, first Julia and then Tony have died and Tom’s days are limited by a heart condition, he returns to The Netherlands to look for the only woman he ever truly loved. He finds her and a good bit more.
“Old Heart manages to weave together an astonishing array of themes and layers the perils and freedoms of old age, the complexity of family ties, the liberation of travel, and finally, Ferry presents and proves the bold and needed idea that it's never too late to re-open the past to recast the present.” - Dave Eggers, author of The Circle and Zeitoun.
Elizabeth McKenzie is the author of The Portable Veblen, published by Penguin Press and 4th Estate. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, 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.
Peter Ferry's stories have appeared in McSweeney's, Fiction, OR, Chicago Quarterly Review and StoryQuarterly; he is the winner of an Illinois Arts Council Award for Short Fiction. He is a frequent contributor to the travel pages of The Chicago Tribuneand to WorldHum, and he has written two novels, Travel Writing, which was published in 2008 to international acclaim, and Old Heart, which was published in June, 2015 and has been named the Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year. He lives in Evanston, Illinois and Van Buren County, Michigan with his wife Carolyn.