When I first heard the premise of The Shape of Water, I immediately thought, “Mrs. Caliban!” Sharing this thought with others, I was forced into an explanation that got me nowhere.
When I read Mrs. Caliban in 1982, I had friends who were reading it as well, and I remember finishing it in one sitting, that’s how compelling it is. At 110 pages, it’s not like I’m bragging. I just don’t see how you could stop once you start.
The shared premise is a woman who falls in love with an amphibian.
I’m not saying that the movie drew from the novella, because there are so many other cinematic and literary instances of inter-species romance. But still. In both cases, the gigantic green creature is everything a woman could long for, especially a lonely woman in a dreary marriage or one who herself feels like a misfit.
I loved the creature in The Shape of Water, who also had an ET thing going for him. His weird gurgles were so poignant! Even though he’s so slimy and fishy, when he stands to his full height and wraps his whatever-they-are around his enthralled love object, he is Cary Grant, and then some.
Mrs. Caliban’s green lover, Larry, is also irresistible.
What is it we want, ladies, that resonates so effectively in the Green Stranger?
Is it the innocence, the purity of purpose, the gentleness? Is it the otherness itself? Or is it that he’s a good listener?
In the movie, he can’t speak. Think about it. No mansplaining. Ever. No criticism! No one to say, “Could you please remember to put the cheese back in the fridge and seal the bag properly?”
Is it the fact that he’s probably never had a woman before you, so you are the best fuck ever? I’m just throwing that out there as I explore this, okay? I already know I’m the best fuck ever, but some people might worry about that kind of thing.
Let’s get back to the listening. A Green Stranger who stares into your eyes and understands you, isn’t bored by you, isn’t checking a device or butting in with his devil’s advocate shit…how good is that?? He is a child, a lover, a protector, a best friend, and he’s able to love with his whole heart.
I am thrilled to report that Mrs. Caliban (by Rachel Ingalls) is now back in print, and a million online reviews are calling it a lost treasure. I didn’t know it was lost, but now it’s back and I think you should read it. After all these year, it remains in my memory like a haunting, glimmering dream. A bonus for completists is that her other books are good, too.