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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 316

In Mrs. Caliban, an unhappily married woman falls in love with a B-movie style frog monster named Larry who escaped from custody at a sadistic scientific institution.

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The story begins with the main character Dorothy enduring a miserable marriage to her husband Fred. The two lost both their children in close proximity and have been unable to recapture their former closeness, all but living separate lives and even sleeping in separate beds. Dorothy is made even emptier by the shallow monotony of living as a housewife in the suburbs, as well as by her husband's having affairs.

Dorothy's life changes when the escaped amphibian creature Larry finds his way to her home. He asks her help, and she readily gives it to this creature as alienated and lonely as she. The two start to fall in love as they share housework, watch TV, and cook dinner together. Dorothy also lets Larry live in the guest bedroom, and eventually the two begin a physical relationship.

However, their love, a strange twist on the fairy tale "The Frog Prince," does not have a happily ever after conclusion. Dorothy learns her husband is sleeping with her best friend, Estelle, and her best friend's daughter, Sandra, at the same time, and Larry is attacked by thugs during a visit to his beloved garden. Matters grow worse when both Dorothy and Larry walk upon Fred and Sandra making love in a bamboo grove and then try to escape to avoid being discovered in turn. Fred and Sandra give chase, but the pursuit ends in a car crash that kills Fred and Sandra. In the mad scuffle following the accident, Dorothy and Larry are separated from one another.

Dorothy goes to the beach in the hopes of seeing Larry there, since the two lovers said that location would be their place to meet should they ever be separated, but Larry never appears.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 823

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 from the house, Larry watches television. At night, with Larry in disguise, they go for long drives to gardens and the beach; they swim in the moonlight, make love on the beach, and share their love of the natural world. After a while, Dorothy teaches Larry how to drive, and he goes out alone at night exploring his new world to soothe his restlessness and longing.

Dorothy’s “happiness returned like a glow, as though she had swallowed something warm which was continuing to radiate.” Some of the romantic dreams of Dorothy’s youth seem finally to be coming true; “her hope and youth and adventurousness” are resurrected. Larry is literally her frog-prince: “Now that you’ve come everything’s all right,” she tells him. He is also, however, a prince from another world, to which he longs to return and to which Dorothy, in spite of her dependence on him, resolves to help him to return.

During her weeks with Larry, Dorothy also spends time with her old friend Estelle, a liberated woman who has two lovers who want to marry her and a job at a motion-picture studio. Estelle is a familiar denizen of modern America, the sexy, brassy middle-aged woman who totters between being tough, cynical, and predatory and being a frail and alcoholic victim of a corrupt world. Estelle finally is not human or feminine or honest enough to become a victim. Estelle and Dorothy comment wittily on the “processed” life around them; yet even as Dorothy resists the temptation to tell her friend of Larry’s existence, the reader begins to suspect that Fred, too, is one of Estelle’s lovers. It is soon revealed that not only have Estelle and Fred been having an affair for years but also Estelle’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Sandra, is now having an affair with Fred. Clearly, Dorothy is an innocent compared to Fred and Estelle when it comes to deception and betrayal.

The dreamlike love affair of Larry and Dorothy comes to an abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion in a startling tumult of violent episodes. First, Larry is attacked by five “punks and troublemakers” while taking a walk in a garden, and he kills them all in self-defense; one of them is Estelle’s son Joey. Next, Dorothy and Larry go to investigate a party in one of their favorite haunts, a bamboo grove, and come upon Fred and Sandra copulating. Dorothy and Larry run from the scene and drive away, but Fred and Sandra pursue them. Dorothy races to escape any contact with her husband and to protect Larry from discovery. Fred’s car crashes and burns; he and Sandra are killed. Dorothy and Larry are separated in the confusion following the wreck. They have agreed to meet at the beach in the event of any forced separation, but Larry never appears. Dorothy is more devastatingly alone at the story’s end than she has ever been—stripped of all romantic illusions and false friendships.

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