Book Review: The Refrigerator Monologues, Catherynne M. Valente

Book Review: The Refrigerator Monologues, Catherynne M. Valente

 

refigerator monologues

Fantasy: The Refrigerator Monologues, Catherynne M. Valente

 

Sometimes I pick up a novella to give myself a break from the thick volumes that I so often read. There’s something satisfying about a book that can be read completely in just an hour or two. Get in, get out, no muss, no fuss.

 

If that is your goal, do NOT choose The Refrigerator Monologues. It may be short in the number of pages. It may even have illustrations to go with it, drawn by the wonderful Annie Wu. What it may lack in size it more than makes up for in power and emotion. Wickedly, acerbically funny, there are quills waiting beneath the veneer of humor. It is a short book in the same way that a tornado is a small hurricane. It may not have the heft of its larger companions on the shelf, but it blows through you with an intensity that sometimes leaves you gasping for air.

 

Fans of comic books have noted that many female characters exist solely to advance the male superhero’s story. Some of this has changed in recent years. Some of it has not. For every Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman there are a dozen Lois Lanes and Mary Jo Watsons. Some more enlightened storylines have given these women agency and their own stories. Most, though, feature them as damsels in distress, existing to enable their heroes to rescue them from near certain doom–or to compel personal growth in the hero when he fails to rescue them.

 

Valente sets up a girls’ night out in Hell’s Kitchen. To be more precise, the “girls” are women who were killed because of their association with a superhero, and the kitchen is a restaurant in Hell. One is the brilliant girlfriend of a man who became a superhero because of her invention. She was killed when his arch nemesis, who also gained his powers from her invention, threw her off a bridge. Her boyfriend raced to the rescue, but in the reality of physics and biology that is seldom acknowledged by comics, her neck snapped at the sudden jolt when he caught her. Another is a superheroine who became so powerful that the other (male) heroes turned on her. One is a supervillain, killed by her supervillain boyfriend after he used her to gain information. The final story is of the girlfriend of a moderately gifted hero who is killed by one of his colleagues who is under mind control by a nemesis. Her story gives the book its name, as she arrives in Hell’s Kitchen wearing a refrigerator. Or, rather, she arrives in a refrigerator wearing nothing, as her body was stripped and then stuffed into the appliance for her boyfriend to find.

 

As the ladies tell their stories, Valente’s sharp wit and outrageous humor plays out page after page. The stories are funny, absurd, and outrageous. They are definitely not “PG.” I found myself in turns cringing and laughing, angry and amused, understanding a little better the combination of invisibility and vulnerability and outrage of women in a “man’s world.” These are women who have been used, misused, abused, and refused by the men they loved. Because of the cruel rules of the afterlife, they continue to love the same men whose actions ended their lives, even as these same men have moved on with their own stories, finding new women who continue to forward the heroes’ narrative at the expense of their own.

 

Valente is imaginative, hilarious, and her pen drips with poison. Her writing is refreshing, in the same way that falling into ice-cold rapids is refreshing. I may never see comics in the same way.

 

refigerator monologues

Book Review: The Refrigerator Monologues, Catherynne M. Valente

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