By: Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrator: Annie Wu
Release Date: June 6, 2017
Publisher: Saga Press
Catherynne Valente’s The Refrigerator Monologues is a slim novel that packs one hell of a punch. It is at once a collection of short stories and a novel. While there are multiple stories from different women being told, they come together and paint a very vivid world filled with superheroes and villains, an afterlife rich in community with a certain life of its own, and the women who were used, hurt, and forgotten by those who were supposed to love them.
These are the stories of the women who serve only as plot points in superhero stories, the women whose lives were cut short for no more reason than another motivating factor for the hero to want to destroy the villain. They are the stories of the disenchanted, the forgotten, the ones who have endured, the ones who deserved better.
Each story is told by a new character. The beginnings of heroes and villains alike are seen through the eyes of the women in their lives. This gives a unique outside perspective and stories that are never told. The first of these takes on the trope of ‘fridging’ a character head on, and things only get better from there.
The world Valente paints in this book is detailed, wondrous, and comes together in the cleverest of ways. On the one hand we are indirectly introduced to an earth populated by superheroes and villains. There are future-of-earth defining battles taking place, and a host of superheroes who are just as flawed as their villainous counterparts. This world is explored exclusively through the stories of the women telling about their lives and deaths.
These are not the disembodied voices of the dead, either. These are characters we meet, chat with, and linger amongst. The afterlife is a whole world unto itself, and the place where the world building truly shines. All manner of peoples and creatures live in the afterlife. They might be dead, but they still have jobs, go to bars, and build friendships. They live. Apartment complexes are filled with wondrous, interesting neighbors. It’s a place I would have loved to stay, linger in, and learn more about.
The intensity of each woman’s story is tempered a bit by the humor, fantasy, and sheer cleverness found within the sections talking about the afterlife. These short in-between sections provide both a needed breath from one story to another, but also develop these characters further and let the reader know what their current states and goals are.
The book is peppered with wonderful full-page illustrations in black and white comic book style. These are beautifully drawn by artist Annie Wu. A tone is set here, one which constantly reminds the reader of the comic book-like world.
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne Valente is a fantastic novel that really leaves an impact. It’s one that stays with you, lingering in the back of your mind, drawing your eye to the shelf it sits on. Read it. Take it a story at a time. You won’t be disappointed.