Invisible Ink: No 114 - Rachel Ingalls
Sunday 11 March 2012
Authors can vanish in their own lifetimes. Rachel Ingalls is hard to find, even though she's been hailed here as one of the best US writers of the past 50 years. She's rigorous, dark, shadowy, cool, and leaves a lot unsaid but not unimagined – in short, she has all the elements you need to become a cult figure. Why hasn't she become one?
Ingalls has the most concealing of biographies; according to Graywolf Press, she was born in 1940 and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She spent some time in Germany. She had various jobs, from theatre dresser and librarian to publisher's reader. She's a film addict and has lived in London since 1965. She's the daughter of a Sanskritist and the sister of a computer scientist. In 1986, the British Book Marketing Council named Mrs Caliban one of the 20 best post-war American novels. And that, I'm afraid, is your lot.
Perhaps she's shy and writes for her own pleasure, which would be a shame because here we have an astonishing American Gothic aesthetic wedded to the English talent for understatement, the lovechild of John Collier and Joyce Carol Oates, if Oates concentrated more on her surreal side. As the Village Voice points out: "Her razor-sharp lines cut through decorum to expose writhing mental states."
As Ingalls is a private person let's respect her wishes and concentrate on the writing, but you'll have to run with me here. Mrs Caliban is a bizarre fantasy about a depressed California housewife's affair with a gentle green aquatic creature that has escaped from a laboratory. She sits with it in the kitchen and takes it around town in a wig, and somehow this ludicrous situation catches her confused mental state beautifully. Then there's The Pearlkillers, four wonderfully acidic and cryptic tales which will draw you back time and again. Or Black Diamond, five tales grouped around the idea of kinship, and Binstead's Safari, in which African lions are symbolically invoked to turn a marriage on its end. Or how about Last Act: The Madhouse, which inspired a character in Wayne Wang's film Chinese Box?
A fabulist who writes about repressed states, she springs shocks on her readers that prove psychologically fair but unexpected, and is an original, accessible voice. But what was once mainstream is now deemed too daring for regressive times, and the novella format has fallen from fashion; our loss.
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Michelle Watt's father says TV presenter killed herself because she was in constant pain
- 2 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 3 San Francisco TV news crew attacked by armed robbers during live broadcast
- 4 Greek debt crisis: The photograph that conveys the despair of Greece's elderly
- 5 Miami defendant sobs in court as he realises he and the judge attended the same school
Bad luck, One Direction: Paul McCartney doubts success of The Beatles will ever be matched again
This is surely the best way to watch Jaws
The Crystal Maze: Richard O’Brien confirmed to return as more details revealed about show's rebooted format
Guillaume Tell's gang-rape scene caused uproar at the Royal Opera House – but the portrayal of extreme sex and violence on stage is nothing new
Britain's best outdoor cinemas to visit this summer from Somerset House to Luna Cinema
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture