A Year of Unknown Books: Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls

*Project Recap: For one year, I will read one book per month that I know nothing about that was recommended to me by a stranger; friend; family member, or co-worker; and I will write about that experience.  God help us all.

Mrs. CalibanMrs. Caliban
by Rachel Ingalls
Book #6, read during April, 2015

Recommended by my spouse, Mrs. Caliban was the first book that I knew absolutely nothing about.  In all honesty, reading a book that was less than 150 pages with a pile of books on my “to-read” desk was extremely appealing, so here we go book number six.

Mrs. Caliban is at first glance a love story between a lonely housewife and an over six foot amphibious fish/man named Larry.  It’s a simply written and understated story that tugs at any heartstrings susceptible to loneliness, infidelity, love, and childlessness.  This book is said to be science fiction, but for those who clam up in disgust at the mention of the genre, there is a fish/man present, but beyond that you’re safe from conventional sci-fi.

Here’s a little plot rehash: Dorothy Caliban, due to the loss of two children is engaged in a loveless marriage where she and her husband are “too unhappy to get divorced.”  In the first few pages, while rushing around at the demand of her husband to spontaneously make dinner for his business partner, the gigantic amphibious man/creature Larry shows up at her door, recently escaped from an institution where he was tortured by scientists.  Having no idea where this would go, I immediately became immersed in Dorothy’s life and couldn’t wait to know what would happen to Dorothy and Larry, which is a hilarious name for the frog man.  An immediate bond is forged between the two as each one fills the gaps in the others’ life.  The overarching theme of this book is relationships and we are given a more thorough glimpse into Dorothy’s life through her conversations with not only Larry, but with her physically and emotionally absent husband, Fred and with her best friend Estelle, whose 180 degree personality acts as an interesting juxtaposition.  By the end, Ingalls expresses themes of marital love, tenderness, loneliness, betrayal and complacency all through the vehicle of a creature.

The amphibious Larry’s presence in Dorothy’s life can be taken literally or figuratively and can change your interpretation of the ending drastically, though the aforementioned themes remain relatively the same.  If you’re a realist, then the story becomes about coping mechanisms and grief, if you are drawn to more flights of fancy, then Larry the fish/man’s presence facilitates discovery and comfort.  Though published in the early 1980s, the thrust of the story reminded me of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and The Awakening, by Kate Chopin.  All three stories illustrate that not much has changed in the past 100 plus years concerning such issues as the social stigma concerning women and childbirth and your everyday, plain old gender norms where women are cast as causalities of so many inequities due to socially constructed ideas of what men and women should be, and how that construct keeps women down.

Lucky number six!  This was by far the best book as of yet, and on a personal note, it’s nice to know that my spouse knows me so well after nearly eight years, and that thankfully, we have something else in common besides our love of Indian food and gin.  Ingalls has written a novella with few words, but they’re all the right ones.  Her deft story-writing skills, delivered in the most hard-hitting but simplistic of ways are a breath of fresh air in a time where we are saturated with the concept that more is more in art.  Ingalls reminds us that even with the presence of a nearly seven foot green monster, that sometimes less is indeed more.

2 thoughts on “A Year of Unknown Books: Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls

  1. michaelgloversmith says:

    I consider it a huge compliment that this was your favorite book so far. It makes me feel like we know each other well! It’s been a while since I’ve read it but your description really makes me want to revisit it. Can’t wait for your other reviews in this series.

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