Refrigerator Monologues – Review

book review

 

It must suck to be a superheroes girlfriend. I mean sure it might have its upsides; constant excitement, the knowledge that you’re one of the good guys and I can only imagine what the sex is like. But despite the fact these lucky girls are normally beautiful, intelligent and the kind of people we’d all like to be; they all seem to end up the same way. Not quite saved by the heroes they’ve given their lives to. Ever wondered what they’re thinking? As they’re falling from windows or being murdered by the bad guys, ever wondered what they have to say?

Well finally Catherynne M Valente has given those women a voice. In her words, she handed them a mic and let them scream. Come on down to the Lethe Café, say hi to Neil the gargoyle and meet the ladies of the Hell Hath Club. Hear their stories.

***

In this bitter tale Catherynne M Valente has turned her attention from picking apart the archetypes in fairy-tales and mythology, to the tragic treatment of women in comic books. The title itself is a reference to both Eve Ensler’s ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and the term ‘fridging’ coined by Gail Simone to describe the trope in which female comic book characters meet tragic ends to develop the hero’s character arch. (Originating from 1994’s Green Lantern in which Kyle Rayners girlfriend is killed by Major Force and left in his refrigerator.) If you’re a fan of comic books you’ll recognise the echoes of beloved characters such as Gwen Stacey or Karen Page and their tragic ends. However, you don’t need to be a fan of the classic superhero tales to appreciate Catherynne’s carefully crafted universe.

Although this novel still contains Valente’s classic prose in its writing, as we have all come to expect from her. It is a sharper, more enraged narrative that clearly expresses Valente’s feelings on the treatment of women in traditional comic book stories. Her feelings are pointed, giving the women in these stories the opportunity to share their side. To tell their own stories.

These women spend their afterlife in Deadtown; a city where it’s always autumn and the women wear the clothes they were buried in. It is here that the women meet in a café, have a gargoyle pour them coffee and one by one share their stories. Although we all wanted her to, Valente does not save these women. She does not give them the chance to be free of their tragic endings or tell the heroes they died for, how angry they are. As Paige Embry states in the opening chapter “I was in love with him when I died so I’ll be in love with him till the sun burns out.” This is not a book to save the women, only to shed light on their treatment in the comic book narrative.

In a time of real changes for women in the comics world, where there are more female creators and more women emerging into the spotlight as heroes; this book takes crucial steps in uncovering the darkness behind these old-fashioned tropes, showing there’s more to these women then the heroes they love. They’re very beautiful, very well read and very angry. They’ve seen some shit.

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