In the Act begins: “As long as Helen was attending her adult education classes twice a week, everything worked out fine: Edgar could have a completely quiet house for his work, or his thinking, or whatever it was.”
In Rachel Ingalls’s blissfully deranged novella, the “whatever it was” her husband’s been up to in his attic laboratory turns out to be inventing a new form of infidelity. Initially Helen, before she uncovers the truth, only gently tries to assert her right to be in her own home. But one morning, grapefruit is the last straw: “He read through his newspaper conscientiously, withdrawing his attention from it for only a few seconds to tell her that she hadn’t cut all the segments entirely free in his grapefruit—he’d hit exactly four that were still attached. She knew, he said, how that kind of thing annoyed him.”
While Edgar keeps his lab locked, Helen secretly has a key, and what she finds in the attic shocks her into action and propels In the Act into heights of madcap black comedy even beyond Ingalls’s usual stratosphere.