(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Mrs. Caliban begins with a deft portrait of a failed marriage. Fred and Dorothy lost whatever connection they might have had when their son “died under an ordinary anaesthetic given before a simple appendectomy.... And a few months later, she lost the baby.” Now they are living a pathetic “ritual” of “despair,” of “silence and separateness”—sleeping in single beds and living lives completely unknown to each other. Fred goes off each day to his office and his miserable, unfulfilling affairs; Dorothy cleans the house, exercises, and works in her garden. From this realistic beginning, the story suddenly changes into a charming and convincing fantasy. Dorothy is preparing dinner for Fred and a business associate when the screen door opens and a gigantic six-foot-seven-inch froglike creature stands in front of her. “I need help,” he says, and so begins a bizarre and touching love affair between “Aquarius the Monsterman,” known as Larry, a fugitive from the Jefferson Institute for Oceanographic Research who has killed his two sadistic keepers in order to escape, and Dorothy, a lonely and distraught woman imprisoned in a loveless marriage and the crushing emptiness of suburban life. The story of Larry’s intrusion into and transformation of Dorothy’s pathetic and pedestrian life is told with an uncommonly skillful lightness of touch and lack of pretension. Yet, although this monster is not the brutish Caliban of Shakespeare’s vision, neither is Southern California a charmed island, and this tale proves inevitably to be not a romance but a tragedy: a love story of genuine pathos, a haunting account of a brief union of two alien creatures in a world hostile to both.

Dorothy secrets Larry away in the guest bedroom in an unused wing of the house. This curious couple spend their days making love, doing housework together, talking about their former lives, and preparing vegetarian feasts for Larry, who particularly loves avocados. When Dorothy is occupied with Fred or is away...

(The entire section is 823 words.)