MANUEL PUIG AND THE SPIDER WOMAN by Suzanne Jill Levine

MANUEL PUIG AND THE SPIDER WOMAN

His Life and Fiction
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An affectionately explicit biography of genre-bending Argentinean novelist Puig (1932–90), written by a translator and friend.

Levine (Spanish and Portuguese/Univ. of California) begins by reconstructing the small-town Argentinean world whose stifling boredom drove Puig’s mother Malé almost nightly to the movies with her precocious son. Romances and musicals provided the effeminate Puig with a dreamy exile from the machismo and homophobia that surrounded him on all sides in the outside world. His distaste for life in Péronist Argentina was reflected in his rocky rejection of his father Baldo. Levine’s candid use of Puig’s alternately discreet and graphic letters and conversation helps to describe the process by which Puig first became conscious of his homosexuality and eventually concluded that it was an unalterable part of himself. Handsome, volatile, and penny-pinching, Puig maintained a strict discipline in regard to his writing, which he practiced every day whether he was at home or on one of his increasingly frequent journeys abroad (usually in the company of his beloved mother). Levine demonstrates how such works as Puig’s autobiographical Betrayed by Rita Hayworth (1971) and his prison-cell melodrama Kiss of the Spider Woman (1979) recycle “the debris of mass culture”—newspaper soap serials, detective stories, B-movie plots, etc. In Puig’s world, characters never integrate emotion and sex into sustained adult relationships—much in the same way that Puig, fearful of aging without “a husband” despite international homage, never quite grappled with his own uneasy truths before his early (and somewhat suspicious) death from complications that arose after gallbladder surgery. Levine (The Subversive Scribe, 1991), who collaborated with Puig on English versions of his novels, canvassed film archives, interviewed surviving friends, and combed through Puig’s abundant unpublished writings to construct a somewhat disheveled life-story befitting Puig’s motley existence.

Invaluable not only for aficionados of contemporary Latin writing but also for scholars tracking film’s impact on serious revisionary literature. (b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-374-28190-4
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2000




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