Manuel Puig Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Manuel Puig’s contribution to the mystery and detective genre is limited to a single novel, The Buenos Aires Affair: Novela policial (1973; The Buenos Aires Affair: A Detective Novel, 1976). A member of the literary avant-garde as well as a pop novelist, Puig mixed high and low culture in his fiction and rejected the dismissal of popular literature, such as detective fiction, as subliterature.

Each of Puig’s novels can be identified with one or more genres of popular writing: serial melodrama, science fiction, screenplay, and detective fiction. His use of these various genres shifted between parody and emulation. The Buenos Aires Affair, for example, combines a playful attitude toward the conventions of the detective novel with an earnest desire to present a spectacle and to communicate directly with a mass audience. In adapting the detective novel to his use, Puig commented that it was the ideal form for his proposed theme of contained violence. Nevertheless, his use of the genre was decidedly self-critical and experimental in the manner of Jorge Luis Borges or Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Manuel Puig Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although he is best known for his novels, Manuel Puig (pweeg) was also an author of nonfiction, a playwright, and a screenwriter. His screenplays for his own Boquitas pintadas (1974) and for José Donoso’s novel El lugar sin límites (1978) both won prizes at the San Sebastián Festival. His plays include El beso de la mujer araña (pb. 1983; Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1986), an adaptation of his novel, and Misterio del ramo de rosas (pb. 1987; Mystery of the Rose Bouquet, 1988).

Manuel Puig Achievements

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Manuel Puig established himself both as a Latin American novelist and as a writer capable of providing insight into contemporary American society. For many years, Puig was a highly mobile exile from Argentina, spending considerable stretches of time in New York City and also favoring other cosmopolitan centers, such as Rio de Janeiro. In the process, he became a cross-cultural writer, exploring such phenomena as the effects of mass communications and culture, the issues of changing gender roles and variant sexualities, and the need to establish new types of bonds in an impermanent and rapidly changing social environment.

In addition to the university audience that is likely to gravitate toward Latin American authors, Puig’s work appeals to various subcultures such as those found in New York. Film enthusiasts are understandably drawn to this novelist, who used a storehouse of cinematic knowledge in his fiction. Film critic Andrew Sarris, among others, has directed his readers toward Puig’s novels and followed Puig’s career with interest. The growth of the gay people’s liberation movement and the general interest in alternative sexualities also increased Puig’s readership, and he, in turn, was willing to learn from this movement, with its stress on the validation of nonstandard sexual expression. The author was receptive to the idea that some readers would come to his works, lectures, and public readings specifically attracted by this content, and he discussed his thoughts about sexuality in the magazine Christopher Street and other gay forums. Puig also became a figure admired by many members of another subculture, science-fiction readers and writers, who feel drawn not only to Puig’s Pubis angelical, with its unmistakable borrowings from science fiction, but also to the author’s overall production, for its critique of culture and society.

Puig’s work thus reaches an audience more diverse than the literary sophisticates who are the only audience for many experimental writers. The excellent relationships the author established with cultural subgroups in the United States reveal his profound willingness to reach out to many types of readers, including the special enclaves that may be considered marginal or bizarre by the literary establishment.

Manuel Puig Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Did Manuel Puig’s early interest in films influence his sense of novel structure?

Is it helpful to the readers to be told how they “should take pleasure” in Puig’s novels?

Is the construction of a Puig novel based on a presumed conception of the typical reader’s presumably short attention span?

Is Pubis angelical a misandrist novel?

Can Puig’s novels be called tragedies?

Manuel Puig Bibliography

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Bacarisse, Pamela. Impossible Choices: The Implications of the Cultural References in the Novels of Manuel Puig. Calgary, Alberta: University of Calgary Press, 1993. An excellent critical study of Puig’s work. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Bacarisse, Pamela. The Necessary Dream: A Study of the Novels of Manuel Puig. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1988. Chapters on the major novels. The introduction provides a useful overview of Puig’s career and themes. Includes notes and bibliography.

Colas, Santiago. Postmodernity in Latin America: The Argentine Paradigm. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1994. Puig is discussed in this study of Argentine works, which also examines Julio Cortázar and Ricardo Piglia.

Kerr, Lucille. Suspended Fictions: Reading Novels by Manuel Puig. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987. Chapters on each of Puig’s major novels, exploring the themes of tradition, romance, popular culture, crime, sex, and the design of Puig’s career. Contains detailed notes but no bibliography.

Lavers, Norman. Pop Culture into Art: The Novels of Manuel Puig. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1988. Lavers finds a close relationship between Puig’s life and his literary themes. Biography, in this case, helps to explain the author’s methods and themes.

Levine, Suzanne Jill. Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman: His Life and Fictions. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001. A full-length biography by one of Puig’s translators, focusing on the intersections between his life and his art.

Magnarelli, Sharon. The Lost Rib: Female Characters in the Spanish-American Novel. Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1985. In “Betrayed by the Cross-Stitch,” Magnarelli provides a close reading and feminist analysis of Betrayed by Rita Hayworth.

Puig, Manuel. “The Art of Fiction: Manuel Puig.” Interview by Kathleen Wheaton. The Paris Review 31 (Winter, 1989): 129-147. An intensive exploration of Puig’s themes and techniques.

Tittler, Jonathan. Manuel Puig. New York: Twayne, 1993. The best introduction to Puig. Tittler provides a useful survey of Puig’s career in his introduction and devotes separate chapters to the novels. Includes detailed notes and an annotated bibliography.