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"Have you ever felt sorry for the last lima bean on the plate?"
on 24 April 2016
If you like kooky characters then you may love Veblen: she's got a kind of child-like, dreamy innocence as she moves through the world talking to squirrels (and believing they talk back), worrying about vegetables feeling lonely and useless, and unsure quite what's going to happen when she marries the man she loves. Set against Veblen is Paul, a research doctor and a fundamentally good man, who loses his way somewhat when a dodgy medical device company flatter him into heading up their clinical trials. How Veblen and Paul navigate through their difficult families, their differing value systems and the compromises required of a relationship is the substance of this book.
McKenzie has a good feel for dialogue and gives her characters quite distinctive voices; she also has a nice lyrical touch to her writing. For all that, though, there are places where the cute and quirky tipped over into the twee for me (those blasted squirrels!)
There are also important issues here about the American healthcare system: about corporate greed taking priority over patient well-being, about who can afford to be treated made especially potent in the cases of military injuries sustained in the service of the state, but I couldn't help feeling that they get slightly submerged or over-shadowed in the sometimes almost cartoonish treatment. It's slightly disconcerting to have this juxtaposition of feel-good quirky romance alongside an indictment of capitalist market values. The clue, of course, is in Veblen's name, an evocation of the anti-capitalist socio-economist who first warned of the dangers of 'conspicuous consumption' and a materialistic culture.
So this is an interesting mix of social commentary and kooky romance: I'm not completely convinced by the mixture of light-heartedness alongside more serious, even tragic, scenes like that of the families desperate to have their brain-damaged or coma relatives given some form of medical inspection - the emotional stretch was sometimes not bridged adequately for me. So 3.5 stars for originality and a promisingly creative fictional voice.