The Refrigerator Monologues (Saga Press, 2017) by Catherynne Valente is a beautiful, but challenging, read. The difficulty is not in the writing, but rather in the content, as the narrative follows the women who have been part of a super hero’s life and died as a result of their romantic entanglements. While some of the individual stories are less brutal than others, the book as a whole is an excellent look of how women have been treated by comic book writers over the years.
The book tells the story of women living in Deadtown, who are part of the Hell Hath Club. Each of these women is dead (either literally or in some figurative way), and each death is directly tied to their relationship with a male super hero or group of male super heroes. As someone who hasn’t read a ton of comic books, some of the stories were foreign to me, but they still fit the trope of the “women in refrigerators” to motivate the male heroes. Other stories were exactly as I expected. The Pretty Poll and Mr. Punch storyline read like it could have come straight from a super dark Harley Quinn and Joker comic, though with Valente’s own unique spin on the details. As a Harley Quinn fan who prefers Harley as far from the Joker as she can be, I liked this story, but wished it could have ended differently, rather than the inevitable spiral into death.
The story that hit me the hardest, though, was the Julia Ash story—that of the female super hero who was “too powerful” (read: more powerful than her male teammates) and thus had to be stopped. I actually had to stop reading the book for a few days after I finished her story, because the ending was so horrific and brutal.
Despite the words I’m using to describe this book, I think it’s a definite must read for anyone who likes comic books. Some of the stories will hurt to read, and no one really gets a happy ending. If you’re a fan of Cat Valente’s Fairyland books, with their light-hearted fun and generally pleasant endings, this book is a massive departure from them. But it’s amazing in its own right, the sort of book I want to give to everyone I know who loves comic books, even though reading it might be emotionally difficult.
Dawn Vogel writes and edits both fiction and non-fiction. Her academic background is in history, so it’s not surprising that much of her fiction is set in earlier times. By day, she edits reports for historians and archaeologists. In her alleged spare time, she runs a craft business, co-edits Mad Scientist Journal, and tries to find time for writing. She is a member of Broad Universe and an associate member of SFWA. Her first novel, Brass and Glass: The Cask of Cranglimmering, is available from Razorgirl Press. She lives in Seattle with her awesome husband (and fellow author), Jeremy Zimmerman, and their herd of cats. Visit her at historythatneverwas.com.