Whatever you read about Catherynne Valente’s The Refrigerator Monologues (2017) beforehand (except this review, natch), ignore it. It’s not superhero fiction. It’s not at heart tragic stories of women being treated poorly by men. It’s not a lot of boo-hooing, woe-is-me, where-is-my-recognition from the ladies who prepared all the feasts in Lord of the Rings. What it is, is vigorous, engrossing, human, and yes, fateful stories of everyday women, with the sugar and confetti of superhero tropes sprinkled over their lives in excellent, metaphorical fashion. (In comic books, the opposite is typically true.) Written in Valente’s vibrant/hilarious/cynical/delightful diction, it’s also a superb set of stories.
The perfect opener, “Paige Embry Is Dead” sets the scene by telling Embry’s disastrous story. A promising research student, Embry makes the mistake of showing off some of her work on volatile metals to her boyfriend, mutating him into Kid Mercury in the process. Evil lurking in the lab’s wings unbeknownst to Embry, her research is cut short by tragedy—one that even Kid Mercury cannot help with. What is likely the best story in the collection, “The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Pauline Ketch” tells the story of a self-destructive person chasing what’s even worse for them. The bad girl riding with the wrong crowd and too proud to think differently, Pauline Ketch is the girl with starry eyes for James Dean on a motorcycle through her version of hell. Valente capturing lightning in a bottle, the character voice in this tale is pitch perfect.