The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente is a gut-punch of a collection. As a woman who grew up with comics, I have rage for this thing that I have loved for years. I found both the rage and the love on the pages of this book and it was good.
On the surface, The Refrigerator Monologues is a collection of stories from the point of view of dead women. Women who were somehow adjacent to men who are superheroes. Some of them were the reason behind those men’s superpowers, some of them were girlfriends, some of them superheroes in their own right. But all of them, for some reason or another, are now dead and forgotten, as the name would imply. Just in case, dear reader, you’re not familiar with the trope, refrigerators refer to the trope of women in refrigerators, a term coined by the great Gail Simone to describe the tendency of comic books to kill or depower their women, usually in particularly nasty ways. The term itself refers Alex DeWitt, once Green Lantern’s girlfriend who finds her killed and stuffed in the refrigerator to provide motivation for him. There are, of course, other examples, some of them more egregious and some of them less so. Batgirl’s spine gets broken and she can’t walk, forcing her to become Oracle; Batman’s spine gets broken and he muscles his way to recovery, coming back better than ever. I love Barbara as Oracle, but there’s a double standard. A double standard that Valente’s book drags kicking and screaming into the light.
When you look deeper, however, there’s also a long-lasting love for the stories that did these things to all these women. Valente has clearly spent a lifetime among these comics and while some of the details have changed, it’s kind of exciting to see when you can guess which story, which refrigerated woman’s story she’s telling now. And it’s kind of wonderful to see all the stories that were already right there on the page if the original writers had just bothered to look a little deeper. And ultimately, it also comes down to the reader. The stories were there for any reader to find as well. And that’s where the beauty of The Refrigerator Monologues lies for me; these are all stories that I’ve known and hated because of what they did to the women. Some of them almost turned me away from reading comics altogether. But Valente managed to find the love buried deep, deep inside those stories and bring that to the light as well.
While I love a lot of Valente’s writing, this one is very close to stealing the cake. It’s at the very least a close call between this and Deathless. I think that anyone who loves Valente’s writing or loves comic books will find this an enjoyable read.