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.
Some writers make me laugh out loud; Rachel Ingalls makes me cackle.
— Ed Park, The Village Voice
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
Her best stories remain freshly startling.
— Joy Williams
Ingalls artfully weaves B-movie kitsch into the already eerie afternoons of airless domesticity. In her work, sexual desire often crawls onto the bare shores of women’s lives — a friendly alien, if you can get past its unusual guises.
— Audrey Wollen, The New York Times
Behold the reactive potential of a mid-century woman in domestic captivity, distilled into less than one hundred pages. … The true comic engine lies in the protagonist’s practiced manipulation of her husband. What at first seems like docile submission is in fact carefully organized war theater.
This odd little lark packs a sneaky punch.
— Publishers Weekly
Witty, darkly comedic…No one straddles the line between playful and macabre quite like Ingalls.
— Sophia Stewart, The Millions
Much of Ingalls’ fiction deals with the depressive realities of marriage and the frightening disregard, ambivalence or pure hatred husbands have for wives. In the Act is a funny story, well in line with the rest of the author’s vision.
— Jessica Ferri, Los Angeles Times
Best remembered for her incursions into the otherworldly, Ingalls’s faculties reach their zenith in her unsparing dissections of domestic disenchantment. … In Ingalls’s free-market take on Bluebeard, the fruit of female knowledge is neither damnation nor self-determination, but leverage.
— Jamie Hood, The Baffler
[T]he single strongest current running through Rachel Ingalls’s fiction is the boundary-shattering energy of female desire, which, whether satisfied or denied, she depicts as both a life-giving force and a destroyer of worlds... Ingalls reminds her readers that desire is weird, surprising, uncontrollable, likely to end badly—and worth pursuing nonetheless.