A lonely housewife gets a new lease on life in the strong, green arms of a sea monster.
Thanks to the support of writers like Daniel Handler and Rivka Galchen, who introduces this novella, the marvelous Ingalls (Three Masquerades, 2017, etc.) has been rescued from obscurity with reissues of her books. Mrs. Caliban was originally published in 1982 to raves that compared it to works by Edgar Allan Poe, David Lynch, Richard Yates, and Angela Carter, not to mention E.T., King Kong, and “Beauty and the Beast”—which only shows how sui generis it really is. We meet the very dear character Dorothy Caliban at home, sending her husband, Fred, off to work. He will be late, he says, not even troubling to come up with an excuse for why. After the death of their young son, followed by a miscarriage, her despair, his affair, and, finally, the running-over of their Jack Russell terrier, this marriage is more of a house-sharing arrangement than any comfort to anyone. Dorothy has one great friend, Estelle, who draws out “other people’s subversive instincts,” offering sherry and laughter to break up the long afternoons, but it’s not enough. Then, the very evening after she hears a radio report of a monster who has killed two people and escaped from the facility where he was being held, her screen door opens and a 6-foot-7-inch creature, with the bulging forehead and flat nose of a frog and the body of an attractively hunky man, shoulders his way in and stares straight into her face. “Help me,” he says. “They will kill me. I have suffered so much already.” His name is Larry, he loves avocados, he is a tireless and attentive lover—and Fred is home so little, he doesn’t even notice that Dorothy's amphibian boyfriend is living in their guest room. The plot unfolds brilliantly and heartbreakingly from there.
The love story is a delight, the social commentary sharp, the writing funny and fun—and yet the sorrow, even bitterness, at the core of this book about our perfidious species is inescapable and profound. Where is the movie?