Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Mrs. Caliban, a short and deceptively simple novel about an ordinary American housewife, becomes more and more disturbing as it progresses. For one thing, the novel’s plot becomes increasingly farfetched. Dorothy not only has a love affair with Larry, an escaped sea-monster, but because of that love affair she is indirectly responsible as well for the deaths of several people whose lives are intimately connected to hers—including her husband. These plot complications neatly combine the grotesque elements of a sensational tabloid headline—something like “California Housewife Takes Alien Lover”—with the melodramatic coincidences of a soap opera. Even more disturbing, however, is the fact that these complications merely emphasize, by contrast, the emptiness and banality of Dorothy’s everyday life.

The novel begins on a typical morning. As Fred leaves for work, Dorothy fetches his newspaper, reminds him to take his umbrella, and sees him safely out the door—but she does not kiss him goodbye, because she has not done so in years. While Dorothy does the breakfast dishes, she listens to the radio, hearing a news bulletin about a sea-monster that has escaped from the Oceanographic Research Institute. Later, she shops at the supermarket, where she finds her friend Estelle doing the same thing. That night, while Dorothy prepares dinner, the sea-monster appears in her kitchen.

Dorothy makes friends with Larry, feeds him, and hides him in the guest room; the next morning,...

(The entire section is 618 words.)