American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

MRS. CALIBAN (1983). In Rachel Ingalls’ (1940- ) slim, well-written novel, told by a limited third-person narrative voice, a six-foot-seven-inch amphibian humanoid slips into the house and into the loveless, sexless life of a California housewife. Captured in the Gulf of Mexico, his home, “Larry” has been studied and also tortured by staff at a scientific institute. In escaping he has killed the torturers and is being hunted. Dorothy, the protagonist, hides him and over time finds him gentle, gloriously sexual, quite human in some ways, but irrevocably alien in others.

Ingalls persuades the reader that Dorothy’s secret life with this supposed “monster” from the deep, despite its early hints of hallucination, is true in an essential way. That truthfulness, complicated as it is by Larry’s distance from home, by Dorothy’s desire to keep him with her as long as possible, by her husband, his affairs, and other lives intersecting with theirs, makes the story of this odd couple finally one of cataclysmic loss. At the end, Dorothy stands listening to the language of the sea, alone.

Haskell Springer