Manuel Puig was born and reared in Argentina, studied film direction in Rome and worked as an assistant director there. He has lived in a number of world capitals, and currently resides in New York. Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages is Puig’s fifth novel. Unlike his previous novels, it was written in English, then translated into Spanish and published as Maldicion eterna a quien lea estas paginas in 1980. The published English text was based upon both the original, unpublished English version and the Spanish text. In short, Puig represents a new kind of writer: the international writer. His fiction owes its distinctive character neither to the materials of his native culture nor to the great tradition of Western literature but rather to an international popular culture exported chiefly from America and flourishing everywhere from Argentina to Japan.
Puig’s previous novels—La tración de Rita Hayworth (1968; Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, 1971); Boquitas pintadas (1969; Heartbreak Tango, 1973); The Buenos Aires Affair: Novela policial (1973; The Buenos Aires Affair: A Detective Novel, 1976); and El beso de la mujer araña (1976; The Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1979)—reveal an almost obsessive preoccupation with certain recurring themes and devices. Thematically, Puig has explored repeatedly the role of popular culture, particularly Hollywood films, in the imaginative life of his characters. All of his novels feature an implicit critique of traditional sexual roles from a homosexual perspective. Essentially an apolitical writer (though several of his books have been banned in Argentina), Puig is inclined to treat political repression as but a manifestation of a more pervasive cultural oppression that is most clearly focused in traditional definitions of masculinity and femininity.
Stylistically, Puig is an exemplary international modernist. From the first, his novels have been collages, comprising such diverse materials as letters, term papers, plot summaries of films and excerpts from film scripts, and (in The Kiss of the Spider Woman, long running footnotes discussing various theories concerning homosexuality in particular and sexuality in general. Puig’s most distinctive stylistic trait is his preoccupation with speech, with oral as opposed to written language. This trait, evident in his first novel, has become more pronounced as Puig has developed; The Kiss of the Spider Woman consists largely of dialogue between the two principal characters.
Both thematically and stylistically, Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages is a continuation of Puig’s previous work. With the exception of several pages of appended “documents” (letters; an informal will; a job application), the novel consists entirely of dialogue between two characters. Here it would seem that Puig has reached the logical conclusion of his stylistic development.
An odd author’s note on the dust jacket of the novel describes its genesis:This novel was born of a crisis I went through. I had returned to New York from a trip, spiritually and morally exhausted. Within a few days I spotted this man, while I was working out in a gym. He was young, healthy, handsome. “I’d like to be like him,” I thought. I got to know him and soon discovered he was morally bankrupt. The book is the outcome of a series of interviews I did with him.
Given the dialogic structure of the novel, this author’s note is rather ambiguous, perhaps deliberately so, for both of the speakers whose conversations constitute the novel are morally bankrupt. Lawrence John, known throughout the book as “Larry,” is an embittered failure at the age of thirty-six. Once a promising student and, by his own account at least, successful college history instructor, he has drifted from one dead-end job to another. A student of Karl Marx and a self-styled “labor organizer,” he seems incapable of any sustained commitment.
All this the reader gathers from Larry’s conversations with Juan José Ramirez, a seventy-four-year-old Argentine political prisoner exiled to America and now living in a Greenwich Village nursing home. Mr. Ramirez, as Larry addresses him, is confined to a wheelchair and suffers from a strange form of amnesia, apparently as a result of his imprisonment. From his questions to Larry, who, in need of work, has been hired to take him for walks in his wheelchair three times a week, it...
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