“Here we are, in Spain.” Caren Beilin’s travelogue lays out a new path for the genre. Spain is sly cultural criticism (Blanchot to The Shining), feminist wink, post-breakup corrective, and portrait of the artist as a young mansplained woman. Our narrator finds herself, skeptically, at an artist residency in Spain, rendering her life into vivid fragments that pop and sting. With acerbic flair, Beilin swings an axe into the stuff of memoir. “I don’t care to dine with anyone,” she proclaims. Reader, pull up a chair.
Caren Beilin is the author of the novel, The University of Pennsylvania (Noemi Press, 2014) and a collection of short fictions, Americans, Guests, or Us (New Michigan Press, 2012). Her work appears in Fence, The Offing, and Territory. She is a reviews editor at Full Stop Magazine and teaches at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in the Berkshires.
While the other art colonists around her “are making the world soft”—photographers setting daylong exposures and textile artists felting cocoons—Caren Beilin’s Spain is hard: made and re-made in its mosaic shards. Abject, affronted, and audacious, the resilient narrator, who incidentally might faint at a thought, if it’s a rigorous thought, who might then rouse wherever, in the company of countryside sheep, is on the perilous cusp of insight on multiple fronts. She looks up from her book in her book to assert that form is a better heroine than Emma in Madame Bovary, and proceeds to “read against what was happening.” The beginning of the end of fiction.
Caren Beilin’s Spain is like a Hostel-ization of Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station. Beilin’s protagonist isn’t in Spain on a Fulbright. Rather, she’s paying her own way at a dubious artist residency with the proceeds of a defunct relationship with an older, wealthy man. Spain is a fantastic, poetic, and realistic account of travel in a post-travel world.
Spain is a genre-bending document of the narrator’s female, migratory writing life through the wounded, binoculative, molested soul of her nipples. Spain is stuffed with poetic axing, bicycling, pussying, traveloguing, Rilke-ing, Claire Denis-ing, reading, anti-Spain-ing. This highly inventive, highly imaginative book relentlessly disrupts the contemporary order of memoir writing. Beilin goes to the moon and back, and is not afraid to be scandalous or poetic or whimsical or ethical at a moment’s notice.