Class: Realism & Its Discontents
I don’t have much time to read for pleasure anymore (~sniffles~), but the reading lists in grad school haven’t disappointed me yet. In fact, I’m discovering authors and genres I never would’ve considered before. (I’ll read anything, but I’d definitely say I’m strictly a YA fiction girl.) With that said, I figured I’d review some of the textbooks that really resonate with me.
My Realism class read Rachel Ingalls’ novella Mrs. Caliban at a time when I was living off a Stranger Things high (let’s be honest, I still am). When I was “awwww”ing over Mike and his telepathic first love. Laughing at Dustin and his dangerous scientific discovery/friend. I’m a sucker for supernatural relationships. It’s why Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney movie, why I totally fell into the vampire craze in middle school. There’s just something so enchanting about characters finding solace in the unknown. So I took an instant liking to Mrs. Caliban‘s protagonist Dorothy.
Dorothy is a lonely housewife, while her husband is constantly out for business. Dorothy knows this “business” is all bull, but she decides to feign ignorance and stay with him. Things change, however, when she starts hearing unusual reports of a reptilian man who’s just escaped. Where does this reptilian man end up? In Dorothy’s kitchen, of course. Now, if I was Dorothy, I would scream bloody murder. I would run out of that kitchen without looking back. Instead, she just stares at him. She’s afraid… yet, she isn’t. Her first instinct is to hide him from her husband. Once they’re safe, she gets to know this creature — named Larry, of all things — and takes care of him, subsequently falling in love.
I’m sure, in my words, that all sounds ridiculous. A lab holding a giant frog man? That frog man running off to a cozy little neighborhood? And having an affair with a married woman? Yeah, it’s a little weird. But Ingalls laces all of these fantasy elements into her story with such natural ease, such nonchalance, that you just go with it. Because of Dorothy’s past and her current mental state, you’re consistently wondering if Larry is real or if he’s all in her head. At the same time, you’re just happy that these two lonely souls have found each other. I actually would’ve preferred if Ingalls kept it that way — open-ended.
My biggest problem with this novella was the ending. The story suddenly spiraled out of control, leading to some questionable coincidences. It almost felt like a Korean melodrama (without the birth secrets). The tonal shift didn’t quite sit right with me, leaving me conflicted.
So while I don’t think this is the “perfect novel” the New Yorker says it is, Mrs. Caliban does entwine fantasy with realism in a compact and charming way. And now, all I want to do is see The Shape of Water in theaters.
My Personal Rating: ★★★★☆
My Objective Rating: ★★★★☆