Michele Leber, Booklist (starred)

Rachel Ingalls

Rachel Ingalls (1940–2019) is the author of Mrs. Caliban, Binstead’s Safari, and a dozen other books. Her writing has been hailed as “perfect, original, and arresting” (Harper’s), “feminist, fabulist, magical realist” (Kirkus), “perfect, bizarre, heartfelt, insane” (Vogue), and “outstanding” (Booklist). Rivka Galchen called Mrs. Caliban “a perfect novel” in The New Yorker.

cover image of the book In the Act

In the Act

by Rachel Ingalls

With a contribution by Ouattara Watts

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.

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cover image of the book Binstead's Safari

Binstead's Safari

After getting a haircut in London and a few new outfits (“she bought two pairs of shoes and began to enjoy herself”), Millie, the neglected American wife of an academic pill, is transformed—and, upon arrival in Africa, falls into the perfect affair. Binstead’s Safari unfolds the fractured fairy tale of the rebirth of a drab, insecure woman as a fiercely alive, fearless beauty. “Life was too short to waste time trying to find excuses for not doing the things you really wanted to do,” Millie realizes, helping herself to love and joy. The husband is astonished—everyone adores the new Millie. She can’t put a foot wrong, and as they move deeper into Africa in search of lion myths for his book, “excitement and pleasure carried her upwards as on a tide.” Mysteries abound, but in the hands of Rachel Ingalls, the ultimate master of the curveball, Millie’s resurrection seems perfectly natural: caterpillar to butterfly.

“Only now had she found her life”—and also her destiny, which may, this being Ingalls, take the form of a Lion God.

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cover image of the book Mrs. Caliban

Mrs. Caliban

by Rachel Ingalls

With a contribution by Rivka Galchen

In the quiet suburbs, while Dorothy is doing chores and waiting for her husband to come home from work, not in the least anticipating romance, she hears a strange radio announcement about a monster who has just escaped from the Institute for Oceanographic Research…

Reviewers have compared Rachel Ingalls’s Mrs. Caliban to King Kong, Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, the films of David Lynch, Beauty and the Beast, The Wizard of Oz, E.T., B-horror movies, and the fairy tales of Angela Carter—how such a short novel could contain all of these disparate elements is a testament to its startling and singular charm.

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Michele Leber, Booklist (starred)

Ingalls’ sly humor and lightness of touch keeps the reader off-guard as we grow increasingly worried about Larry’s fate. News reports portray him as a menace to people, but with Dorothy, we see him as solicitous and caring, a perfectly gentle creature. Merely reflecting on the story as I write brings back a pleasurable mix of the emotions I experienced during the reading, a sure sign of a great book.

Chicago Tribune

Ingalls writes fables whose unadorned sentences belie their irreducible strangeness…In her grim yet playful fashion, Ingalls is concerned with the rules and conventions by which societies are organized, the violent machinations by which they are maintained. Like a good tragedian, she tends to heap up corpses at the end of her tales, and even in her quieter examinations of familial bonds she leaves readers to wonder, of her spouses and siblings, who might push whom off a cliff.

Lidija Haas, The New Yorker

Ms. Ingalls is an experienced writer of novels and stories, and her performances are immensely skillful, reminiscent of the best film thrillers.

Ursula K. Le Guin
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