I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente, Annie Wu
Published by Saga Press on June 6 2017
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
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The nitty-gritty: A powerful collection of loosely tied together stories of the women who fell in love with superheroes—and died because of it.
I never wanted children. Let’s get that straight up top. All I ever wanted to do was to drink beer, play my horn, and ride mutant armadillos till the end of the world. But you don’t get to hit those high notes when you’re Queen of something. Hard to scream-sing fuck the man authority is deathpuke anarchy in Atlantis when your mom is, like, the entire government.
Reading a Catherynne M. Valente novel is always a treat for me. Her writing is the equivalent of listening to edgy slam poetry in a smoky bar, but in prose form. No one writes quite like her, and if you like the paragraph I’ve quoted above, then you really do need to pick up one of her books. Even better, her world building is some of the most unique I’ve ever read. I highly recommend Radiance if you have an open mind when it comes to quirky science fiction worlds.
But getting back to the book at hand, Valente once again proves she has extreme writing chops, an imagination that won’t quit, and a penchant for poking fun at tropes. The Refrigerator Monologues is a slim book comprised of six short stories, each one told by a girlfriend/side kick/lover of a male superhero. The kicker? All six women are dead and now reside in Deadtown, where they’ve formed a support group called The Hell Hath Club. They gather at the Lethe Café and take turns telling their stories of woe. Valente takes characters from familiar superhero stories, like Batman, Superman, etc., but gives them different names. Still, readers who are up on superhero lore will recognize them immediately.
In one of my favorite stories, for example, it was easy to identify Pauline Ketch as Harley Quinn, the brash and crazy (literally, she’s in an insane asylum) girl from Batman. Polly, as she calls herself, had one of my favorite voices, upbeat and slightly manic even as she’s telling us about her horrible life. We already know how Polly ends up—dead—but Valente goes into intimate detail about her weird and destructive relationship with Mr. Punch, and Polly’s death—like each of the other girls’ deaths—is almost anticlimactic (“And then he killed me. The end.”)
Each of the stories is preceded by a short interlude chapter that ties everything together, so the reader has the feeling that, like the book cover, each character is taking her turn at the mic, telling her sad story to an appreciative and sympathetic audience. The overall feeling was one of intimacy, although I have to admit that after hearing about the terrible lives of these six women, I had had enough. They all seemed to take their injustices in stride—beatings, verbal abuse, abandonment and more—and while I felt for them, I also wanted to shake each one and yell “What the hell are you thinking??” Which is the point, I guess. Women in the male dominated world of the superhero always seem to get the short end of the stick.
The book is lightly illustrated by Annie Wu, whose style fits perfectly with the comic book vibe. I loved having some visuals to go along with the narratives, and Wu nails the aesthetic.
What I didn’t get enough of, though, was Valente’s amazing world of Deadtown, which seriously, I could read a whole novel about. I want to go there myself, well, provided it’s only a short visit!
But in the end? Nothing is really resolved. Polly, Paige, Julia, Blue Bayou, Daisy and Samantha are still dead. In the final story, Samantha Dane reveals that she was killed and stuffed into a refrigerator, describing a term coined by comic book writer Gail Simone—“fridging”—which brings us back to the theme of this book. Valente’s characters may seem to be taking things in stride in the afterlife, but deep down they’re hurting and angry. The Refrigerator Monologues will make you uncomfortable, but maybe that’s a good thing.
Big thanks to the publisher and Wunderkind PR for supplying a review copy.