Manuel Puig life and biography

Manuel Puig picture, image, poster

Manuel Puig biography

Date of birth : 1932-12-28
Date of death : 1990-07-22
Birthplace : General Villegas, Argentina
Nationality : Argentine
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-08-27
Credited as : Novelist, playwright, wrote El beso de la mujer araña 1976

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Manuel Puig born December 28, 1932 in General Villegas, Argentina - died July 22, 1990 in Cuenavaca, Mexico was an Argentinian novelist and playwright.

Manuel Puig wrote eight novels now translated from Spanish into many other languages. His early work found enthusiastic readers, but El beso de la mujer araña (1976, Kiss of the Spider Woman) made him an international celebrity after the Hollywood version became a hit. Puig crossed over twice: first from Latin American and then from gay male literature into the mainstream.

"Sidelights"

As a boy growing up in rural Argentina, novelist Manuel Puig spent countless hours in the local movie house viewing screen classics from the United States and Europe. His enchantment with films led him to spend several years pursuing a career as a director and screenwriter until he discovered that what he wanted to write was better suited to fiction; nevertheless, Puig's work is saturated with references to films and other popular phenomena.

"[But] if Puig's novels are `pop,'" observed Jonathan Tittler in his Narrative Irony in the Contemporary Spanish-American Novel, it is because "he incorporates into his fiction elements of mass culture--radionovelas, comic books, glamour magazines, and in Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, commercial movies--in order to unveil their delightfully insidious role in shaping contemporary life." Puig echoes the design of these media, "us[ing] those forms as molds to cast his corny, bathetic material in a form displaying a witty, ironic attitude toward that material," noted Ronald Christ in Commonweal. Ronald Schwartz concurred with this assessment; writing in his study Nomads, Exiles, and Emigres: The Rebirth of the Latin American Narrative, 1960-80, the critic contended that Puig employed "the techniques of pop art to communicate a complex vision of his own world. It is [the] cinematic influence that makes Betrayed by Rita Hayworth and Puig's subsequent novels some of the most original contemporary Latin American narratives." In Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, "the idea of the novel is simple: the drama and pathos of moviegoing as a way of life in the provinces, where often people get to respond to life itself with gestures and mock programs taken over from film," described New York Times Book Review contributor Alexander Coleman. The story is narrated primarily through the eyes of Toto, a young boy born in the Argentinian pampas, and recounts the everyday life of his family and friends. "The novel's charm," claimedNewsweek writer Walter Clemons, "is in the tender gravity with which Puig records the chatter of Toto's family and neighbors. Kitchen conversations, awkwardly written letters and flowery schoolgirl diary entries . . . combine to evoke lives of humblest possibility and uncomplaining disappointment." While this description may sound gloomy, stated Coleman, nevertheless Betrayed by Rita Hayworth "is a screamingly funny book, with scenes of such utter bathos that only a student of final reels such as Puig could possibly have verbally re-created [it] for us." "Above all, Puig has captured the language of his characters," D. P. Gallagher reported in his Modern Latin American Literature, and explained: "There is no distance separating him from the voices he records, moreover, for they are the voices that he was brought up with himself, and he is able to reproduce them with perfect naturalness, and without distortion or parodic exaggeration. That is not to say that his novels are not very polished and very professional," the critic continued. "Like all the best Latin American novels. . . , they are structured deliberately as fictions. But the authenticity with which they reflect a very real environment cannot be questioned."

Puig's next novel, Heartbreak Tango, "in addition to doing everything that Rita Hayworth did (and doing it better, too) actually proclaims Puig not only a major writer but a major stylist whose medium brings you both the heartbreak and the tango," Christ declared in Review 73. Bringing together letters, diaries, newspapers, conversations, and other literary artifices, Heartbreak Tango, as New York Times reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt related, "reconstructs the lives of several Argentine women, most of whom have in common the experience of having once passionately loved a handsome, ne'er-do-well and doomed young man who died of tuberculosis." Mark Jay Mirsky commented in the Washington Post Book World that at first "I missed the bustle, noise and grotesque power ofBetrayed by Rita Hayworth. The narrative of Heartbreak Tango seemed much thinner, picking out the objects and voices of its hero [and] heroines with too obvious a precision." Nevertheless, the critic admited, "as we are caught up in the story, this taut line begins to spin us around." Michael Wood, however, believed that it is this "precision" which makes Heartbreak Tango the better novel, as he detailed in a New York Review of Books article: "Heartbreak Tango seems to me even better than Puig's earlierBetrayed by Rita Hayworth because its characters' moments are clearer, and because the general implication of the montage of cliche and cheap romance and gossip is firmer." The critic added that "the balance of the new book," between irony and sentimentalism, "is virtually perfect." Gallagher presented a similar opinion in the New York Times Book Review, noting that "it has been said that [Heartbreak Tango] is a parody, but that underestimates the balance between distance and compassion that Puig achieves. His characters are camp, but they are not camped up, and their fundamental humanity cannot be denied." Despite this serious aspect, the critic remarked that Heartbreak Tango "is a more accessible book than its predecessor without being less significant. It is compelling, moving, instructive and very funny." "At the same time," concluded David William Foster in Latin American Literary Review, "no matter how `popular' or `proletarian' the novel may appear to be on the surface, the essential and significant inner complexity of [Heartbreak Tango], like that of Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, bespeaks the true artistic dimensions of Puig's novel."

"The appearance of Manuel Puig's new novel, The Buenos Aires Affair, is especial cause for celebration," Ronald De Feo asserted in the National Review, "not only because the book makes for fascinating reading, but also because it demonstrates that its already highly accomplished author continues to take chances and to grow as an artist." Subtitled A Detective Novel, the story takes place in the city and investigates a kidnapping involving two sexually deviant people. "It is not devoid of the lucid and witty observation of absurd behaviour that characterized" Heartbreak Tango, maintained a Times Literary Supplement, "but it is altogether more anguished." As Toby Moore elaborated in another Times Literary Supplement review, "Puig's subject is the tangle made up of love and sexual desire. . . . In The Buenos Aires Affair the anxieties and inhibitions of the two characters are so great that they never get to a point of love; all they have is the dream of sex which obsesses and torments them." The author sets this psychological drama within the framework of a traditional thriller; "what makes Puig so fascinating," wrote New York Times Book Review contributor Robert Alter, is "the extraordinary inventiveness he exhibits in devising new ways to render familiar material." De Feo, however, faulted the author for being "a shade too inventive, [for] we are not always convinced that [these methods] are necessary. But," the critic added, "the book is more intense, serious, and disturbing than the other novels, and it is a welcome departure for this searching, gifted writer." And a Times Literary Supplement writer claimed thatThe Buenos Aires Affair "is technically even more accomplished than the previous novels, and Sr Puig is able to handle a wide variety of narrative devices in it without ever making them seem gratuitous."

Shortly after the publication of The Buenos Aires Affair in 1973, Puig found it more difficult to remain in Argentina; Affair had been banned (presumably because of its sexual content), and the political situation was becoming more restrictive. This increasingly antagonistic climate led Puig to a self-imposed exile, and is reflected in what is probably his best-known work, The Kiss of the Spider Woman. Set almost entirely in an Argentinian jail cell, the novel focuses on Valentin, a radical student imprisoned for political reasons, and Molina, a gay window--dresser being held on a "morals" charge, who recounts his favorite 1930s and 1940s movies as a means of passing time. "In telling the story of two cellmates, Puig strips down the narrative to a nearly filmic level--dialogue unbroken even to identify the speakers, assuming we can project them onto our own interior screens," related Carol Anshaw in the Voice Literary Supplement. "If this insistent use of unedited dialogue tends to make the book read a bit like a radio script, however," observed New York Times Book Review contributor Robert Coover, "it is Mr. Puig's fascination with old movies that largely provides [the novel's] substance and ultimately defines its plot, its shape. What we hear," the critic continued, "are the voices of two suffering men, alone and often in the dark, but what we see. . . [is] all the iconographic imagery, magic and romance of the movies." The contrast between the two men, who gradually build a friendship "makes this Argentinian odd couple both funny and affecting," Larry Rohter stated in the Washington Post Book World. But when Molina is released in hopes that he will lead officials to Valentin's confederates, "the plot turns from comedy to farce and Puig's wit turns mordant."

In addition to the continuous dialogue of the jail cell and surveillance report after Molina's release, The Kiss of the Spider Woman contains several footnotes on homosexuality whose "clumsy academic style serves to emphasize by contrast that the two prisoners' dialogue is a highly contrived storytelling device, and not the simulation of reality you may take it to be at first," commented Lehmann-Haupt. Because of this, the critic explained, the book becomes "a little too tricky, like a well-made, 19th-century play." Other reviewers, however, found The Kiss of the Spider Woman "far and away [Puig's] most impressive book," as Anshaw said. "It is not easy to write a book which says something hopeful about human nature and yet remains precise and unsentimental," Maggie Gee remarked in the Times Literary Supplement. "Puig succeeds, partly because his bleak vision of the outside world throws into relief the small private moments of hope and dignifies them, partly through his deft manipulation of form." Schwartz similarly concluded that The Kiss of the Spider Woman "is not the usual jumble of truncated structures from which a plot emerges but, rather, a beautifully controlled narrative that skillfully conveys basic human values, a vivid demonstration of the continuing of the genre itself."

Inspired by a stay in New York, Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages was written directly in English and, similar to The Kiss of the Spider Woman, is mainly comprised of an extended dialogue. Juan Jose Ramirez is an elderly Argentinian living in exile in New York and Lawrence John is the irritable, taciturn American who works part-time caring for him. But as their dialogues progress, Lehmann-Haupt notes, "it becomes increasingly difficult to tell how much is real and how much the two characters have become objects of each other's fantasy life." Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Charles Champlin, although he believed these dialogues constitute a technical "tour de force," questioned "whether a technical exercise, however clever, [is] the best way to get at this study of conflicting cultures and the ambiguities in the relationship." Gilbert Sorrentino similarly felt that Eternal Curse is "a structural failure, . . . for the conclusion, disastrously, comments on and `explains' an otherwise richly ambivalent and mysterious text." The critic continued in the Washington Post Book World: "It's too bad, because Puig has something, most obviously a sense that the essential elements of life, life's serious `things,' are precisely the elements of soap opera, sit-coms, and B-movies." But Lehmann-Haupt thought Eternal Curse is "more austere and intellectually brittle than any of [Puig's] previous books, [and] less playful and dependent on the artifacts of American pop culture," and called the novel a "fascinating tour de force." "Puig is an artist, . . . and his portrait of two men grappling with their suffering is exceedingly moving and brilliantly done," declared William Herrick in the New Leader. "Strangely, the more space I put between the book and myself, the more tragic I find it. It sticks to the mind. Like one cursed, I cannot find peace, cannot escape from its pain."

Echoing themes of Puig's previous work, maintained Nation contributor Jean Franco, "politics and sexuality are inseparable inPubis Angelical." Alternating the story of Ana, an Argentinian exile dying of cancer in Mexico, with her fantasies of a 1930s movie star and a futuristic "sexual soldier," Pubis Angelical speaks "of the political nightmares of exile, disappearance, torture and persecution," described Franco, "though as always in Puig's novels, the horror is tempered by the humor of his crazy plots and kitsch stage props." "Puig is both ruthless and touching in his presentation of Ana's muddled but sincere life," stated Jason Wilson in the Times Literary Supplement; "and if he is sometimes too camp, he can also be very funny." The critic elaborated: "His humour works because he refuses to settle for any single definition of woman; Ana is all feeling and intuition . . . although she is also calculating, and unfeeling about her daughter." But while Ana's advancing cancer and the problems of her dream counterparts are severe, "however seriously Puig is questioning gender assumptions and behavior his voice is never a solemn one," Nick Caistor claimed in the New Statesman. "The work as a whole fairly bristles with ingenuity and energy," Robert Towers wrote in the New York Review of Books; "the thematic parallels between the three texts seem almost inexhaustible, and one finishes the novel with a sense of having grasped only a portion of them." Nevertheless, the critic faulted Pubis Angelical for being "an impressive artifact rather than a fully engrossing work of fictional art." Steve Erickson likewise criticized the novel, commenting in theNew York Times Book Review that "what's amazing about `Pubis Angelical' is how utterly in love it is with its own artificiality." The critic added that "the novel fails most devastatingly" in the portrayals of Ana's fantasies: "There's nothing about their lives to suggest that . . . they have a reality for her." While Jay Cantor similarly believed that "it isn't till the last quarter of the book that the fantasies have sufficient, involving interest," he acknowledged in theLos Angeles Times Book Review that "there is an audacity to Puig's method, and an intellectual fire to Puig's marshaling of motifs that did then engage me." "In any case, whatever the whole [of the novel] amounts to, each individual part of `Pubis Angelical' develops its own irresistible drama," countered Lehmann-Haupt. "Though it takes an exercise of the intellect to add them together, they finally contribute to what is the most richly textured and extravagant fiction [Puig] has produced so far."

In Blood of Requited Love Puig recounts a failed romance between a construction worker, Josemar, and the young daughter of a successful businessman in rural Brazil. The story is based largely on Puig's interviews with a real-life carpenter. As in other novels, Puig employs extended dialogue incorporating multiple voices to juxtapose reality and fantasy, and to illustrate entrapment caused by despair. Dean Flower called the novel "another dazzling tour de force," in the Hudson Review, "both a book-length dramatic monologue and a kind of philosophical inquiry into the dialectics of narrative self-invention." According to Norman Lavers in American Book Review, "It is the way that the novel is narrated that marks it as Puig's. For almost the first time in Puig there is a narrator, and the narrator seems almost like that chatty nineteenth-century omniscient author, except he is so unreliable--perhaps exaggerating the subjectivity of the standard authorial voice--that only the most careful reading can ferret out when he is telling the truth. However, the narrator turns out to be Josemar himself, telling his own story in the third person." Stephen Dobyns concluded in a Times Literary Supplement revie, "This is a sad book and a very impressive one. We move from seeing Josemar as a selfish brute, to feeling sympathy and compassion; he is completely responsible for his life and he is trapped."

Tropical Night Falling, originally published two years before Puig's death in 1990, also involves the effective use of dialogue, interspersed with letters, to portray both internal and external conflict. The novel follows the conversations and correspondence of two elderly sisters in Rio who debate and attempt to disentangle the emotional lives of their family, neighbors, and the function of romance in the contemporary world. Times Literary Supplement contributor John Butt praised the novel, noting that "the ending is a masterpiece of graceful bathos that is characteristic of Puig at his funniest." Peter Matthews wrote in an Observer review, "This spare, elegant chamber piece was Puig's last novel. . . and it must be his saddest." Butt similarly concluded, "Tropical Night Falling shows that this unusual and attractive voice among modern novelists was strong to the last." "Less interested in depicting things as they might be, and concerned with things as they are, Puig does not resort to make-believe," Alfred J. MacAdam asserted in Modern Latin American Narratives: The Dreams of Reason. "His characters are all too plausible, . . . [and their lives] simply unfold over days and years until they run their meaningless course." It is this ordinary, commonplace quality of life, however, that the author prefers to investigate, as he once told Washington Post interviewer Desson Howe: "I find literature the ideal medium to tell certain stories that are of special interest to me. Everyday stories with no heroics, the everyday life of the gray people." And films play such a large role in his work because of the contrast they provided to this mundane world: "I think I can understand the reality of the 1930s by means of the unreality of their films," Puig also remarked in a Los Angeles Times interview with Ann Marie Cunningham. "The films reflect exactly what people dreamed life could be. The relationships between people in these films are like the negative of a photograph of real life." "I can only understand realism," the author further explained to New York Times writer Samuel G. Freedman. "I can only approach my writing with an analytical sense. . . . I can write dreams, but I use them as part of the accumulation of detail, as counterpoint."

Because of his realistic yet inventive portrayals, contended Schwartz, "Manuel Puig is a novelist moving in the direction of political commitment in his depiction of the provincial and urban middle class of Argentina, something that has never before been attempted so successfully in Latin American letters." The critic concluded: "Clearly, Puig, thriving self-exiled from his native country, is an eclectic stylist, a consummate artist."

PERSONAL INFORMATION
Family: Born December 28, 1932, in General Villegas, Argentina; died July 22, 1990, in Cuernavaca, Mexico; son of Baldomero (a businessperson) and Maria Elena (a chemist; maiden name, Delledonne) Puig. Education: Attended University of Buenos Aires, beginning 1950, and Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, beginning 1955; studied languages and literature at private institutes.

AWARDS

La traicion de Rita Hayworth was named one of the best foreign novels of 1968-69 by Le Monde (France); best script award, 1974, for "Boquitas pintadas," and jury prize, 1978, for "El lugar sin limites," both from San Sebastian Festival; American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book, 1979, for The Kiss of the Spider Woman; Plays & Players Award for most promising playwright, 1985, for Kiss of the Spider Woman.

CAREER

Translator and Spanish and Italian teacher in London, England, and Rome, Italy, 1956-57; assistant film director in Rome and Paris, France, 1957-58; worked as a dishwasher in London and in Stockholm, Sweden, 1958-59; assistant film director in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1960; translator of film subtitles in Rome, 1961-62; Air France, New York, City, clerk, 1963-67; writer, 1967-90. Argentina Air Force, 1953; served as translator.

WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:

* La traicion de Rita Hayworth, Sudamericana (Buenos Aires), 1968, reprinted, Casa de las Americas, 1983, translation by Suzanne Jill Levine published as Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, Dutton, 1971, reprinted, 1987.
* Boquitas pintadas, folletin (also see below), Sudamericana, 1969, translation by Levine published as Heartbreak Tango: A Serial, Dutton, 1973.
* The Buenos Aires Affair: Novela policial, Sudamericana, 1973, translation by Levine published as The Buenos Aires Affair: A Detective Novel, Dutton, 1976.
* El beso de la mujer arana (also see below), Seix-Barral (Barcelona), 1976, translation by Thomas Colchie published as The Kiss of the Spider Woman, Knopf, 1979, published as The Kiss of the Spider Woman and Two Other Plays, Norton, 1994.
* Pubis angelical (also see below), Seix-Barral, 1979, translation by Elena Brunet published under same title, Vintage, 1986.
* El beso de la mujer arana (play; adapted from his novel; also see below), first produced in Spain, 1981, translation by Allan Baker titled Kiss of the Spider Woman, first produced in London at the Bush Theatre, 1985, produced in Los Angeles at the Cast Theatre, 1987.
* Eternal Curse upon the Reader of These Pages, Random House, 1982, Spanish translation by the author published as Maldicion eterna a quien lea estas paginas, Seix Barral, 1982.
* Sangre de amor correspondido, Seix Barral, 1982, translation by Jan L. Grayson published as Blood of Requited Love, Vintage, 1984.
* Bajo un manto de estrellas: Pieza en dos actos [and] El beso de la mujer arana: Adaptacion escenica realizada por el autor (plays; also see below), Seix Barral, 1983, 12th edition, French & European Publications, 1992.
* Under a Mantle of Stars: A Play in Two Acts, translation by Ronald Christ, Lumen Books, 1985, revised edition, 1993, (produced in the original Spanish as Bajo un manto de estrellas).
* La cara del villano; Recuerdo de Tijuana (play; title means "Face of the Scoundrel; Memory of Tijuana"), Seix Barral (Barcelona), 1985
* (Contributor) G. W. Woodyard and Marion P. Holt, editors, Drama Contemporary: Latin America, PAJ Publications, 1986.
* Mystery of the Rose Bouquet (play; produced at the Bush Theatre, 1987), translation by Baker, Faber, 1988 (produced in the original Spanish as Misterio del ramo de rosas).
* Cae la noche tropical, Seix Barral, 1988, translation by Levine as Tropical Night Falling, Simon & Schuster, 1991.
* Materiales inciales para la traicion de Rita Hayworth, (Universidad Nacional de la Plata, Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias de la Educacion, Centro de Estudioes de Teoria y Critica Literaria (La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1996.
* Triste Golondrina Macho; Amor del Bueno; Muy Senor Mio, Beatriz Viterbo Editora (Roasario, Argentina), 1998.

Also author of screenplays for Boquitas Pintadas, adapted from his novel, 1974, El lugar sin limites, adapted from Jose Donoso's novel, 1978, and Pubis angelical, adapted from his 1979 novel. Contributor to various periodicals, including Omni.

MEDIA ADAPTATIONS
The Kiss of the Spider Woman was made into a film by Brazilian director Hector Babenco in 1985 and starred Raul Julia, William Hurt (in an Oscar-winning performance), and Sonia Braga.

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