The Refrigerator Monologues – Catherynne M Valente

Story telling is just as much about selecting what to not tell as it is about selecting what to tell. Those of us with massive, unwieldy imaginations love to go outside of the lines of the coloring book to see what it is we find. The characters the book doesn’t follow also have rich, colorful lives, right? They aren’t just empty vessels, whose stories stop when narrative pulls away from them, are they?

They sure do have lives! But those lives just might be a bit on the tragic side.

The Refrigerator Monologues is the untold story of the love interests of other (main) characters, all of them have been ‘fridged’ (and as we can tell from the amalgamation of a title, these secondary characters are all women) – the process of killing off a secondary character in order to advanced the plot – which is an unfortunate plot device often found within comic books. The character tell their side of the story, which is fundamental to the larger story of the unseen comic book heroes, and speak of the tragedy of how they were ultimately betrayed by the narrative.

Every character in this book is modeled on a character from actual comic books, and this was a great decision. I think it is important to point out that I myself (for the most part) don’t read comic books. It was just nothing I ever got into. Despite my ignorance though, I never felt lost in the parallels the author was establishing, in that I had just enough pop-culture knowledge to know what she was talking about, and what the reference was. That being said, I was able to get the reference of the title, and to recognize that character when she literally came out of the fridge towards the end of the book. I can imagine a less knowledgeable reader being rather confused by it all. It is hard to know whether the stories would have been more or less compelling if they had featured characters that weren’t ‘just distinct enough to not get hit with a copyright claim’, and were from stories all their own, very well fleshed out. But I guess that would have lost some of the rapidity and punchiness of this book, and besides, I enjoyed pointing to a character and being able to say ‘clear this is an analogy for such and such’ is also enjoyable.

If a criticism can be thrown at the book, it would be that there doesn’t seem to be much of a glue holding the separate stories together. One does find themselves asking ‘and what now’ of the book when it finally hits its conclusion. It may have been that adding anything to the characters story would have defeated the point of the book.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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