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Puig, Manuel (1932-1990)  
 
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Homosexual themes and motifs are suggested in a number of Manuel Puig's eight novels, and in the best known of them, Kiss of the Spider Woman, homosexual desire is central to the fiction.

Puig was born in General Villegas, an isolated town in Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, on December 28, 1932. As a child, bored by the provincialism of his surroundings, the young Puig would go to the local moviehouse five nights a week to be entertained by the glamour of Hollywood movies.

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After completing his elementary education, Puig was sent to boarding school in Buenos Aires. In 1950, he entered the University of Buenos Aires, first studying philosophy then architecture, but never obtained a degree.

In 1956, he was awarded a scholarship to study film at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia and from 1956 to 1962 he moved back and forth between Rome, London, and Argentina, attempting, unsuccessfully, to get his film career off the ground.

Puig's First Novel

In 1963, abandoning hope of a career in cinema, he moved to New York City where he began to work on his first novel, La traición de Rita Hayworth (Betrayed by Rita Hayworth). The novel was published in Argentina in 1968 but not after first running into censorship problems as a result of the portrayal of the protagonist Toto as effeminate and sexually ambivalent.

In 1969, the prestigious French publisher Gallimard issued the French translation of La traición de Rita Hayworth, and in June of that year the work was selected by Le Monde as one of the best novels of 1968-1969. After this recognition, Puig became one of the most admired and popular authors in Latin America.

Puig's Post-Modernism

Although Puig also published plays and film scripts, he is most recognized in Latin-American letters today for the innovative techniques of his novels. The Argentine writer can perhaps be classified as one of Latin America's first post-modern authors. He is responsible for breaking through to a post-modern, unpretentious literary space where so-called low-brow culture is considered as valid an indicator of personal and collective truths as high-brow art.

His use of popular mass culture (for example, Hollywood movie stars, tragic plot lines, popular radio serials, sentimental and commercialized melodramas) made such an impact on Latin-American letters that soon other writers--Julio Cortázar, Mario Vargas Llosa, and José Donoso, among others--began to write novels and plays based on mass-entertainment products.

Puig's Seven Other Novels

In addition to La traición de Rita Hayworth, Puig wrote seven other novels, each carefully crafted and fascinating to both the general reader and the professional critic: Boquitas pintadas: Folletín (Heartbreak Tango: A Serial, 1969); The Buenos Aires Affair: Novela policial (The Buenos Aires Affair: A Detective Novel, 1973); El beso de la mujer araña (Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1976); Pubis angelical (Pubis Angelical, 1979); Maldición eterna a quien lea estas páginas (Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages, 1980); Sangre de amor correspondido (Blood of Requited Love, 1982); and Cae la noche tropical (Tropical Night Falling, 1988).

El beso de la mujer araña (Kiss of the Spider Woman)

In 1973, while living in Greenwich Village, Puig began to write his fourth novel, the story of two cellmates in a Buenos Aires prison during Argentina's military dictatorship of the 1970s. Luis Alberto Molina, an aging homosexual convicted of "corrupting minors," is a modern-day Scheherazade who recounts and recreates filmed stories to seduce a young Marxist political activist, Valentín Arregui Paz.

The novel is the now classic El beso de la mujer araña (Kiss of the Spider Woman), which was made into a commercially successful Hollywood film in 1985, and has also been adapted for the stage, both as a drama (in Spanish and in English) and as a Tony Award-winning musical.

Although homosexual themes and motifs are suggested in a number of Puig's novels, in El beso de la mujer araña explicit homosexual desire is central to the fiction.

The text unfolds chronologically as a dialogue between the two prisoners who share a small cell. In this reduced space, movies, recounted by the effeminate homosexual Molina, provide a temporary escape from the narrow spatial (and psychological) limits imposed by imprisonment.

The movies that Molina retells are far from realistic; they are melodramatic stories of love and self-sacrifice. Through Molina's nostalgic retelling and Valentín's comments, the reader discerns the gradual changes and transformations that begin to take place in each character.

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Manuel Puig in 1969.
  
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