The Refrigerator Monologues
". . . little treasure of a novella . . ."
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente is a collection of short stories narrated by the dead girlfriends of superheroes. These women —often referred to as tropes, or refrigerated—are the impetus behind the character arcs of their grieving male superhero comic book partners.
The lives of these female characters often closely replicate your everyday June Cleaver; they cook, make coffee, make art, have babies, create scientific experiments, oh, and sometimes slay villains. They are women on missions of their own until they’re lives come to an abrupt and brutal end (i.e., brutally assaulted and then stuffed into a refrigerator). But not to worry, for their lives are never lost in vain. Their superhero boyfriends rise beyond their grief, and go on to save another day!
The women narrating the stories in The Refrigerator Monologues have one thing in common: they’re dead. As such, they live in another world—kind of more hell than heaven—an odd world inhabited by strange creatures, a bar, and dead women wearing boring clothing. While seated together in a booth at the bar, the refrigerated women comfort each other and share their tales.
Valente jumps into this novella at full speed, giving her characters free license to tell their love stories and imminent death stories. She skillfully uses a kind of free-falling form of story telling, filled with unrestrained descriptive prose and gorgeous colorful language.
There is no need for readers to have an advanced degree in comic book/superhero culture in order to understand the storyline. But for those who get to page 50 and wonder what the heck it is they’re reading, be advised to push forward to page 71: The Hell Hath Club vs. The Might of Atlantis. If this section of the book doesn’t have you searching for a box of tissues, the sweet illustration on page 77 by artist, Annie Wu, surely will.
The aforementioned chapter is where Valente’s unique brand of storytelling pulls at the heartstrings of her readers, and where the real purpose of The Refrigerator Monologues reveals itself. Queen B’s story is of a young rebellious punk-music-loving woman, with no plans for children in her future. She’s led astray by one man and betrayed by another. “I told myself it was just another stage. Just another costume. But I knew the truth. Punk dies the day the mortgage comes due.”
Hidden in the façade of The Refrigerator Monologues is a book dealing with the subject of violence against women in super hero magazines, and their big brother, the American blockbuster movie. Through Valente’s characters we learn the sad backstories of the women behind America’s comic book superheroes. This little treasure of a novella is about women wanting and needing their stories to be heard.
A note to the reader: The language in this book is flavored with profanity, perfectly fitting the characters, but for an adult audience.