I’m not gonna lie, I expected something totally different when I ordered Catherynne M. Valente’s “The Refrigerator Monologues”, but what I got certainly didn’t disappoint.
I’m not certain what I read that gave me the impression that the “The Refrigerator Monologues” was in graphic novel format, but that was what I was expecting. I recall reading the words “brilliantly illustrated by Annie Wu” somewhere in my travels, maybe when I was writing my monthly June sci-fi and fantasy new release article. And, by the way, I do wholeheartedly agree with whoever said it (sorry I cannot find it again for attribution) the book was brilliantly illustrated by Annie Wu (check out her website).
What I got when I opened the front cover (which was also brilliantly illustrated by Annie Wu) was a series of interconnected short stories that take place in a totally original superhero universe. The common thread of these short stories was that each of the characters was a female super hero, or the girlfriend/wife of a superhero who was “refrigerated”, a term Valente attributes to comic writer Gail Simone, which describes the tradition in comics of female characters being bashed, smashed, killed, brainwashed or de-powered in a way that helps inspire the male superhero on to victory. Hard to believe this is actually a thing, hashtag notreally. There’s actually a pretty interesting TED talk about women superheroes.
The Refrigerator Monologues takes place in Deadtown, an avatar for Heaven or Hell or whatever generic afterlifey place, where, in this telling, our 6 “heroes” go to spend their eternities, asmembers of the Hell Hath Club. Populated by gargoyles, who run the service industry, Deadtown is filled with delightful (sort of) things, like that you can eat or drink as much as you want. There is, of course, a catch.
“The dead do eat.
Some habits are just too hard to break. Besides the infinite wasteland of linear time would well and truly suck without the occasional Taco Tuesday. Gotta pass the time somehow. The trick of it is, the only aisle in the Deadtown Grocery is Extinct Meat and Veg – we can’t have it down here until you’re done with it up there. The milk Julia gets delivered every week is creamy quagga milk, with a side of great auk eggs over easy. I know a gargoyle named Dave who’s got a big black cart down by Elysium Park and sells triceratops pies and white rhino po’ boys with a side of hot fries made from a Peruvian blue potato that peaced out before Columbus was a twinkle in Queen Isabella’s eye.”
The book is exquisite in the voices that Valente uses for each of her characters, who narrate their own story. Each voice is totally unique and has a different reaction to her own demise. From deep sadness to incredible anger, you’ll find everything in between, as Valente uses these characters to point out, mock, and lambaste this technique that has been around since the dawn of comics (and movies and tv). She, however, does it with such humor that this book immediately became one of my favorite reads of 2017.
Additionally, when you look you’ll find some familiar characters. Not because Valente used other people’s stuff. She didn’t. She invented an entirely new, original superhero universe populated with the likes of Avast, Kid Mercury, Doctor Nocturne, and the hero group Avant Garde. But there are characters that reproduce well in different universes. If you are a reader of comics, you’ll recognize them right away. If you aren’t, you’ll enjoy them for what they are, rich female characters.
I haven’t read Valente’s other work. As I researched this, I found that she has written some works based on fairy tales, as well. If they are half as funny and enjoyable as this, I cannot wait to read them. Her sense of humor, and its translation to her six distinct characters is fantastic. And, as is sometimes a theme for me, the book is a quick read at 147 pages. One thing I will caution you on, this is not a bedtime stories for kids. This is definitely an adult read with language, and little snippets of adult subject matter. But, hey, adults can enjoy comic book characters too. You can follow Catherynne Valente at her website, or on Twitter.
Final Score 9/10
I haven’t found a book that I enjoyed this much this year. It is a fun story, filled with great characters, and bubbling over with well-crafted sarcasm and humor. While it carries a deeper message, that message is delivered delightfully in a unique pair of worlds (Earth and Deadtown), with laments that are sure to make you smile.
+Great, great, great writing style
+Super sense of humor
+Characters that are immediately likable
+perfect length for a summer read (you know how I love short reads so I can read more stuff)
– I had to re-read a few things to “get” them
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The Grumpy Geek, Pete Herr is the author of “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t”. He is the oldest geek in the Geekiverse by a factor of two. Follow Pete Herr on Facebook, Twitter,and Instagram . If you don’t he gets Grumpy. You don’t want to see him Grumpy.
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