The University of Pennsylvania
No one writes like Caren Beilin. If Angela Carter got commingled with Gary Lutz in Lara Glenum’s Miraculating Machine, they might have produced the kinds of sentences found in The University of Pennsylvania, clausal bell-ringers that rewire your brain. Part family gothic, part queer historiography, Beilin’s book conjures a Pennsylvania made of butter, gelatin, and blood, a murderzone in which bleeding girls and boneless horses, patricides and founding fathers interpenetrate, become portmanteau creatures that gorge on taboo. Every emotion is an image. Every image packs an erotic depth charge. Prepare to feel language at its most vandalous, its most painfully exciting. I had to read parts aloud, to use my mouth as a release valve, or I would have exploded on the spot. Finally, language has an orgasm.
Angry and ecstatic, The University of Pennsylvania is the highly metaphorized story of woman’s education into a potentially limited and limiting series of institutions embodied best in the image of a surreal slaughterhouse. The novel’s prose is astonishing. An important new voice has just entered the literary party. Listen.
2013 Winner of the Noemi Press Book Award for Fiction
Olivia Knox has womb duplicatum, a rare affliction of continuous menstruation. Blood—it is not just blood!—tumbles unstoppably during her freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania. This problem of excess—blood full of marbles and beans, something thick enough to be black, sometimes sick enough to be brown, sometimes wild, almost violet again—foregrounds Beilin’s revision (queer and erotic) of Pennsylvania’s foundations. Tracing a relationship between George Fox and William Penn, Bethlehem’s industrial boom, Jewish suburbia and Amish farming, and the origins of surgical education in America, The University of Pennsylvania convenes at the University of Pennsylvania, where Olivia Knox confronts a surgical solution.
Caren Beilin grew up in Germantown, Philadelphia. Her fiction can be found in McSweeney’s, Fence, and in the DIAGRAM/New Michigan Press chapbook, Americans, Guests, or Us. The University of Pennsylvania, in its various forms, has been the recipient of a MacDowell Fellowship, a finalist in Fence’s Modern Prose Prize, and winner of Noemi Press’s Book Award for Fiction.
Reviews and News
One of the most fascinating traits of Beilin’s prose is the way that words tumble into each other, dissolving their distinctions into portmanteaus: “‘Just drive,’ Olivia told her mother, and Mrs Knox — who was usually too frail, sick, and tired, to drive, or love — drove.” Elsewhere repetition and assonance causes clotting: “Beth kneels, devout to it, devout to kneeling, but needing reasons.” Descriptions of female anatomy in particular are characterised by a constant drift towards the figurative: Olivia’s hand is “a small splayed bouquet of bones”; a breast is “the weight of bread forgetting itself”; the clitoris is “a rooster’s drip of throat,” “a rodent’s red liver,” “the flower of guts,” “the bedraggled lung of something waterous, a barracuda’s ripped reason for breathing, hanging in the open, with rancid coral hueing.” Like Antigone as a child, rolling around in a park, flashing her underwear, The University of Pennsylvania seems to speak “in a language parallel to language.”
Rachel Gray reviews Caren Beilin’s The University of Pennsylvania at Front Porch:
Beilin creates a mixture of striking and strange imagery. In the The University of Pennsylvania, kidding is “unsexual, sisternal,” the sunset has “ripe red horns,” cum is a serum all the way from London, and the children of doctors sniff cocaine—or perhaps gelatin. Never before had I considered the similarity between violet and violent, but this book asks its readers to ponder the relationship between the two.
Congratulations to Caren Beilin, whose manuscript, The University of Pennsylvania, is the winner of the 2013 Noemi Book Award for Fiction.
We will also be publishing Her 37th Year, an Index by Suzanne Scanlon.
Finalists for the 2013 Noemi Press Book Award for Fiction:
- MOVIEOLA! by John Domini
- Rats That Will Eat You by Adam Kaplan
- Cockpuncher by Zach Powers
- The University of Pennsylvania by Caren Beilin
- Doom Town and Other Stories by Wendell Mayo
- Her 37th Year, an Index by Suzanne Scanlon
- Out of Which Came Nothing by Laurie Blauner
- The Devil and the Dairy Princess by Pedro Ponce
- Liner Notes by James Brubaker
- In No Strange Land by Joe Milazzo
$15 Paperback | Published 2014