Mrs. Caliban
December 14, 2020 6:33 AM - by Ingalls, Rachel - Subscribe

n the quiet suburbs, while Dorothy is doing chores and waiting for her husband to come home from work, not in the least anticipating romance, she hears a strange radio announcement about a monster who has just escaped from the Institute for Oceanographic Research…

Reviewers have compared Rachel Ingalls’s Mrs. Caliban to King Kong, Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, the films of David Lynch, Beauty and the Beast, The Wizard of Oz, E.T., Richard Yates’s domestic realism, B-horror movies, and the fairy tales of Angela Carter―how such a short novel could contain all of these disparate elements is a testament to its startling and singular charm.
posted by snerson (1 comment total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Rachel Ingalls' writing is almost impossible to have a conversation about because it defies description. I tagged this as scifi because, uh, lagoon man, but that seems to completely miss the point of all of it. So let me begin by saying, this is a careful and peculiar work, gorgeously, sparsely written.

I landed on it per my library website's recommendation after I put Joan Samson's "The Auctioneers" on hold. Obscure white female authors in the 70-80s, I guess. I was immediately intrigued by the name Mrs. Caliban, because it tells you exactly what you're going to get. Caliban, the half-beast from Twelfth Night. Mrs. -- the story is actually about a woman and her attachment to a half-beast. It's just such a neatly-crafted title. The deftness extends to her prose as well. It's matter-of-fact and plain, but always pulling you onward.

In the introduction to a collection of her short stories, she describes (via a letter to Daniel Handler (Lemony Snickett)) her work as a series of "masquerades." I can't think of a more perfect way to explain how her characters seem to subconsciously understand that they are in a story, and this worries at them. Ingalls' characters are frequently caught in loveless marriages, and she'll go between their perspectives, highlighting the private musings that hint at the structures of their lovelessness. "Binstead's Safari" does this especially well, and I'll get around to posting it here too. But "Mrs. Caliban" is a great place to start, and not only for the meager name recognition.

Anyway -- to wrap up a confused and adoring comment -- this work is only 128 pages. It's hard to describe but easy to recommend. If you find yourself with a few spare hours and a cup of coffee, this is a great book. Less picturesquely, this would be a good read keep in the bathroom, because Ingalls does not use chapter breaks, and the scenes are brief and easy to re-read.

My hope with posting this is that a few MeFi readers will be curious enough to pick it up and fall in love with this writer like I have. There's precious little discussion on the internet, and her obscurity is a shame.
posted by snerson at 8:10 AM on December 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

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