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Mrs. Caliban

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  2,491 ratings  ·  428 reviews
It all starts with the radio. Dorothy’s husband, Fred, has left for work, and she is at the kitchen sink washing the dishes, listening to classical music. Suddenly, the music fades out and a soft, close, dreamy voice says, “Don’t worry, Dorothy.”
 
A couple weeks later, there is a special interruption in regular programming. The announcer warns all listeners of an escaped
...more
Kindle Edition, 128 pages
Published September 13th 2016 by Open Road Media (first published January 15th 1982)
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Mark Cofta Why not accept the story as written? I don't think the author gives any reason to think that Larry is a figment of Dorothy's imagination, and that…moreWhy not accept the story as written? I don't think the author gives any reason to think that Larry is a figment of Dorothy's imagination, and that scenario detracts from the book's emotional power and from Dorothy as a character who learns and grows. It's not a "realistic" situation, but such fantastical speculation often spawns the most truthful fiction. (less)

Community Reviews

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3.83  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,491 ratings  ·  428 reviews


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Dan Schwent
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, 2017-books
Dorthy's marriage is stagnant and falling apart when a frogman escapes from captivity. While Dorothy teaches him about the world, she winds up learning a lot of things herself...

I first learned of Mrs. Caliban on Book Riot, I think. I saw it was on sale for $1.70 earlier today and snapped it up.

It's a slim book, probably more novella than novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky, weird, sweet book. A woman falling in love with a frogman could easily be played for laughs or venture into monste
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Navessa
"The water ran over the sand, one wave covering another like the knitting of threads, like the begetting of revenges, betrayals, memories, regrets."


Oh, wow. This is not your average human/monster romance. I totally understand why this landed on the BBMC’s “top 20 American novels of the post-World War II period.”

From the book blurb, this seems straight forward enough: giant, frog-like male humanoid wanders into kitchen of neglected housewife. Bonking commences.

And while, yes, sure, that does ac
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Robin
A few days ago I reviewed Bear, a book about a woman who... you know... does it with a bear. So, continuing in the theme of stories about women who take unusual lovers, I read Mrs. Caliban, which tells the tale of a woman who... you know... with a frog-man. I know, you're all questioning my morals and the condition of my soul. Don't be so quick to judge! This book is quite wonderful.

First of all, it's got a big thumbs up from deceased demigod John Updike, whose approbation probably means too muc
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Justin Tate
UPDATE: if you want to see a good unofficial movie adaptation of this novel, see Shape of Water.

Hmm... Well this was a Goodreads discovery that I'm mostly glad I picked up. The writing was great. I highlighted many brilliant passages as a testament to this. Plot-wise, I'm always a fan when weird mixes with domestic reality, and we certainly have that. I don't know that it will leave any lasting impression on me though. Fortunately as a novella it never got dull. A few segments were even great. T
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Andrea
Feb 14, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you like avocados you will like this book.
Lark Benobi
In his 1986 review of this novel in the New York Times , Michael Dorris called it "a tight, intriguing portrait of a woman's escape from unacceptable reality." Maybe. But it doesn't fit into any easy box for me. It's uncharacterizeable, a perfect, unrepeatable literary expression of love and sacrifice. This was my fourth read or so.
Jessica Sullivan
I recently saw The Shape of Water and, feeling underwhelmed by the execution of its brilliant premise, figured I'd read this book that presents a very similar story.

Larry is a talking sea monster who loves avocados. (Who can blame him, honestly?) After escaping from a duo of sadistic scientists who captured him, he shows up at the door of a lonely housewife named Dorothy and reinvigorates her mundane life.

This being a slim novella, there's very little room for setup or explanation. In fact, the
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Nancy
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this slender volume in an evening while my spouse was watching a Hallmark Christmas movie.

Really.

While he was vegging out to a feel-good wish fulfillment movie, I was reading a feel good wish fulfillment novel about a housewife estranged from her husband after the loss of two kids and a dog and his series of affairs, which housewife meets a frog man named Larry who escaped from a science lab where he underwent cruel tests and learned English with the help of electric shocks, so that Lar
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Laurie Neighbors
Update: Sad but of course not surprised to hear that Rachel Ingalls passed earlier this year. She was a mere mortal, but one of my favorites. Here's a lovely Longread by Ruby Brunton about Ingalls that I think you should read to honor her passing.


I read it at the yurt, under four hundred pounds of blankets, and also in some very unexpected reading positions. I laughed, until the end. And when it was done, I turned the book over and over again in my hands, looking to see if maybe there was more o
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Thom
Mar 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mrs Caliban is your typical story of a housewife’s love for an enormous sea monster. Virtually ignored on its release in 1982, it was unexpectedly hailed as one of the 20 greatest post-war American novels by the British Book Marketing Council (the same people who bought us the inaugural Best of Young British Writers list).

The novel’s protagonist is Dorothy, a housewife whose marriage is failing. Her son, Scotty, died young, of complications from routine surgery, and her husband Fred is frequentl
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Ian Scuffling
I think this book lives in a kind of niche genre that I really enjoy—the weirdo long-dead marriage short novel. The best of this genre is surely Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters where the central conflict of the novel is the question of whether the protagonist has been infected by rabies after a feral cat she tries to feed bites her. But Rachel Ingalls surely does no damage to the form here with Mrs. Caliban.

In Mrs. Caliban, Dorothy’s dead marriage to Fred looks like a lot of fictional dead marr
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Nate D
Feb 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: marriage doldrums
Recommended to Nate D by: Emilie
Being a highly lucid, revealing, and still-timely dissection of modern American society by way of unorthodox romance, this could be likened to Rosalyn Drexler's possibly even weirder The Cosmopolitan Girl. For good measure, I'm also going to shelve this with Marian Engel's Bear. But Ingall's deadly satire and impeccably pared-down narrative is all her own here.
Doug
Feb 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5, rounded down. Like most people reading this in 2018, I was drawn to it by comparisons to the hit film 'The Shape of Water', since both feature romances between somewhat dowdy women and amphibious man-beasts... although I was also intrigued by it being called one of the 20 best books written since WW2. But really - this is sui generis, and I can't say I've ever read anything quite like it. One of the most fascinating aspects of the book for a contemporary reader is the world view presented f ...more
Ariel
Jan 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
I was lead to this strange little novel by the movie Shape of Water which bears a similar story line. Dorothy is a repressed housewife who has given up on love when "Larry" a six foot inch frog creature walks in. In a very matter of fact way Larry and Dorothy begin an affair and he lives in a seldom used room of the kitchen and comes out when Dorothy's husband Fred leaves for work. This somewhat simple story is meant to illustrate the meaningless existence Dorothy had been living in a loveless m ...more
Kusaimamekirai
Feb 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-america
When I was a freshman in college, I took an American literature class where we were assigned an Ernest Hemingway short story to read. I can’t recall the title but the story consisted of a very bland and seemingly meaningless conversation between a man and a woman in the rain. When my professor asked us what our impressions of it were I had nothing. He suggested we think about the man in the rubber raincoat and if that meant anything. Still nothing. Finally he offered that the two characters wer ...more
Will Byrnes
A quirky tale of middle aged angst in which a woman finds a 6’7” frog in her home. She hides him, and eventually comes to love him. This is about love, marriage, getting older, disappointment, amorous adventure, isolation. A nice small tale.
Melinda Jane Harrison
A house wife with a dead son soon learns the truth about her life when she meets a green frog-like man.

This is all you need to know. Every woman, every girl should read this book. A cautionary tale on what a woman can win and ultimately lose. All women.

Masterpiece. A frigging masterpiece.
Elisabeth
One of the strangest books I've ever had to read for class
Tom
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-novel
Passes the suspension-of-disbelief test with flying colors, partly due to understated tone, which I always appreciate with bizarre or outlandish plots, making it all seem perfectly natural, while also reflecting numbed emotions of grieving character. And it serves to heighten tension of gradually increasing risky behavior. The ending, though, takes things up another notch or three. It surprised me at first, fairly stunned me, actually, but upon reflection, I think it not only works but is inevit ...more
Jan
Mar 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful little book that deserves to be much more than a cult classic.
Lauren
Nov 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lauren by: Signature
Dorothy + Larry + Avocados = Love

What a weird little tale. Dorothy is depressed and lonely in a loveless marriage, and along comes an amphibious sea creature to save her day.

The first half of the book buzzed along, but the latter half was too muddled. Still, this was a very memorable read.
Bandit
Aug 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this random Netgalley find. Presumably a classic of feminist literature/sociopolitical satire in its time, it still reads quite fresh three plus decades later and while it can be read as either of those things, it also a basic boy meets girl story. It's just that the girl in question is a lonely woman trapped in a loveless marriage and a boy is a sea monster on a lam. The best part is the absolutely matter of fact delivery of a surreal scenario and, of ...more
woe-to-the-crown
Feb 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sometime after its publication David Lynch's first wife Peggy recommended this novella as a possible film subject. As much as he identified with the book ("It's about grieving") he feared that physically portraying the romance between the woman and the amphibian might provoke mood-killing audience laughter: "after all," he said, "Larry would have to be green."
Richard Derus
Aug 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 3.5* of five (rounded up)

Review goes live September 16, 2016
Lolly K Dandeneau
Jul 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“She hadn’t thought she was going crazy, not straightaway. She believed it was just her own thoughts forcing themselves into low-pitched sounds and their insistent rhythm.”

In reading, I was reminded of those old black and white movies, you know the ones- King Kong with a beauty in his gigantic hairy hand, the woman passed out in the arms of The Creature from the Black Lagoon… the eroticism ever present when beautiful women are captured by the fierce terrible creatures (animal and monstrous) that
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Sean
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sean by: Emilie

Best to go into this one blind.
Kate
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kate by: Will Schwalbe
Shelves: 2018-books
A group of Booktopians were eating dinner with Will Shwalbe so of course we talked about what were reading. Mrs. Caliban was his current read and he was enjoying it. Described as a perfect novel, this is the story of Dorothy, who seemingly seems happy, but in reality is stuck. Stuck in her marriage, stuck in her grief over the loss of her son, stuck at home, missing a career. She befriends a lizard-like creature who moves into her spare bedroom and changes her life. I liked it a lot and recommen ...more
Mac Gushanas
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A new favorite!
Sarah Tittle
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Is the morning a time of festivity?" "Just the opposite," she answered, pulling the plug from the sink. "Is the dress you are wearing a garment of celebration?" "It's just my bathrobe over my nightgown."

This novella is full of such charming exchanges, as Dorothy, a homemaker—grieving the loss of a child as well as a miscarriage, and whose relationship with her husband has become moribund as a result of those losses—meets an alien creature who looks like a nearly 7' lizard. She names him Larry.
...more
Kathleen
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"At the Institute, they said I was a different species. Even Professor Dexter said it. So we might not mix."

"That doesn't surprise me. They didn't like you and they treated you shamefully. They'd want an excuse. For centuries, people like that kept saying women didn't have souls. And nearly everyone still believes it. Same thing."

"The soul I know about. Professor Dexter was very interested in that. He said it was the reason why he chose to study science."

"I knew a girl once," Dorothy said, "wh
...more
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Rachel Ingalls grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She held various jobs, from theatre dresser and librarian to publisher’s reader. She was a confirmed radio and film addict and started living in London in 1965. She authored several works of fiction—most notably Mrs. Caliban—published in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
“There, up in the sky, she noticed for the first time a gigantic mounded cloud, as large and elaborately moulded as a baroque opera house and lit from below and at the sides by pink and creamy hues. It sailed beyond her, improbable and romantic, following in the blue sky the course she was taking down below. It seemed to her that it must be a good omen.” 3 likes
“I bitterly resent all that wasted time. And what I resent most of all is that the ones I did get never, never looked like the Greek statues.”
“The Greek-statue types may have been too busy going out with other boys to notice you.”
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