Puig’s first novel, Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, established themes that would be evident in later works including Boquitas pintadas (1969; Heartbreak Tango: A Serial, 1973) and El beso de la mujer araña (1976; Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1979): the rough-and-tumble world of political and economic survival versus the sensuous dream of art, often symbolized in lushly filmed Hollywood motion pictures. In his exploration of these themes, as well as his experimentation with the form of the novel, Puig is working in concert with other important Latin American writers such as Gabriel García Márquez, Julio Cortázar, and Mario Vargas Llosa. Puig also repeatedly explores the traditional social understanding of sexuality, with a particular interest in the development of the homosexual personality. In Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, he indirectly explores this theme through the composite portrait of the somewhat effeminate Toto. In Kiss of the Spider Woman the subject of homosexuality is directly addressed through a series of scholarly footnotes.
Betrayed by Rita Hayworth also shows the beginnings of Puig’s characteristic experimentation with the use of dialogue as a replacement for conventional narration. The opening chapter consists of a conversation between a group of women at Mita’s parents’ house; another chapter consists entirely of the conversation of two maids; still another shows the reader one side of a telephone call. Always the speaker must be determined from context; no explicit attributions are given. Puig’s use of this stylistic device increases in his later fiction and indicates his desire to reduce authorial intrusion: in other words, to permit the characters to speak for themselves, and to make the reader work to reconstruct the world of the characters.