THE REFRIGERATOR MONOLOGUES (2017)

I once saw a post on Twitter from someone who said their partner once told them this:

“You think you’re the protagonist in this relationship. You are not. This is my story.”

THE REFRIGERATOR MONOLOGUES, from Catherynne M. Valente (with illustrated plates from HAWKEYE and BLACK CANARY artist Annie Wu), reminded me of that stinging barb, even though it’s ostensibly focused merging the confessional honesty and anger of THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES play with the ‘women in refrigerators’ comic book trope.

If you aren’t familiar with THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES, Eve Ensler interviewed 200 women about their experiences about being a woman, which she then turned into a series of stage-based monologues.

Regarding ‘women in refrigerators’, it’s a term that comic book writer Gail Simone coined for when a woman is killed in a comic solely to heighten the dramatic and narrative potential of a superhero the woman is involved with.

Valente was inspired by both but, instead of using the prefab characters of the Marvel and DC universes, she would weave her own, which makes for a far more inventive, insightful, creative commentary on how writers use intriguing characters full of depth as disposable props.

The novella takes place in Deadtown, a seedy literal Hell-hole of a town, at a bar populated by gargoyle bartenders. A clutch of misfit outsider young women gather there once a week, self-named the ‘Hell Hath Club’. The members come and go, depending on the circumstances of their place in the living world, but it’s always women who have been ‘friged’.

The Hell Hath members who tell their story range the gamut from a brilliant lab scientist who watches her lab partner turn into Kid Mercury (basically THE FLASH) to an Atlantean punk rocker-in-line-to-be-queen who falls in love with half-human/half-Atlantean Avast (basically AQUAMAN) to a talented photographer who has a sickeningly adorable relationship with a graphic designer/graffiti artist who finds a charm that allows him to draw things to life.

Their involvement with these men all lead to their death, and they become little more than footnotes in their prior boyfriends’ lives, but thanks to these monologues, they — and Valente — are able to detail their stories, their frustrations, their rage, their idiosyncrasies, and turn the limelight on to their trauma and troubles, to become the protagonist in their own story.

While I obviously loved this book, teenage me would have fallen in love with it. THE REFRIGERATOR MONOLOGUES is rebellious while being amazingly sharp. It opens your eyes to how so-called loved ones/characters are treated as disposable, how they only exist in service of the male character, and how that’s a reflection of society at large, and it does so all the while having a bit of fun, riffing on so many bits of pop culture, including a little snippet of an Atlantean version of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS’ -Skid Row-!

One last note: Amazon had plans to adapt THE REFRIGERATOR MONOLOGUES into a series called DEADTOWN but, since that was back in 2019, it’s probably safe to say that the project has been friged.

https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-Refrigerator-Monologues/Catherynne-M-Valente/9781481459358