My New Favorite Writer: Elizabeth McKenzie

I read a lot, and I enjoy much of what I read. I fall in love with a book at least a few times a year. I fall in love with an author far less frequently, and when it happens, it’s thrilling. But only very rarely do I discover a writer whose work I adore so passionately that I wish I had written it—and fantasize that I might have, if a) I had lived a different life, in particular a life involving education in the sciences and/or material world, such that a wealth of unusual yet evocative metaphors would make themselves available to me; and b) I could rotate the intelligence dial in my brain sharply to the right. What I mean is that the sensibility feels enviously perfect, that the writer has nailed a tone, a use of language, a specificity of character, and an emotional knowing that I wish I could bring together in my own work. And she’s just so freakin’ smart!

That’s what happened—that falling in love—when I read¬†The Portable Veblen¬†and, immediately after, MacGregor Tells the World, both by Elizabeth McKenzie. Not a single sentence or even a single image in these books feels like something I have read elsewhere, but/and the emotional universe is one I recognize completely, because it feels (unlike so much of what’s out there in more commercial books and media) like reality. Like the place we would all be living in, were we paying close enough attention. These books are hilarious while also being sad; they’re about the ways we’re shaped by our early experiences and have to live inside that shape, limited by its contours, until and unless we become conscious of what happened to us. The dialogue has all the crackle of the spoken word, but better. The characters are new yet easy to know, so specifically are they drawn. And the plots bring us through the chop and over to the other shore, where we’ve learned something (satisfying!) without being instructed. The experience of reading each of these books is an experience I am always in search of and only rarely encountering. Delight, joy, surprise, grief, wonder. Thank you, Elizabeth McKenzie!

Stop that Girl is next—and then the waiting (for her next book, naturally) begins.

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