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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 489

Heartbreak Tango: A Serial dates from the first stage of Puig’s career, before his interest in small-town life was overshadowed by political concerns. The novel’s title indicates something of its style and tone. Like film serials, it is episodic in structure, and it is filled with the passion, intrigue, and drama (even melodrama) of tangos.

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The novel’s episodic structure is not quite so simple as weekly installments of film serials. Instead, the story is told through letters, memos, quotations from newspapers, police reports, and other sources. The reader must reconstruct a coherent chronology of events from this variety of incomplete, apparently random, and sometimes contradictory information. This task is one of the great pleasures of the novel.

At the center of the novel is Juan Carlos Etchepare. The distance between the illusion—that he is a Don Juan among fainting females—and banal reality—Etchepare is a consumptive government bookkeeper—exemplifies Puig’s view of small-town Argentines, who struggle to make a living as civil servants, clerks, and policemen while dreaming of romance and adventure—dreams that are fulfilled only in the artificial world of films, fan magazines, and pop music.

The novel begins with a newspaper notice of Juan’s death. There follow letters from the woman who apparently loved him the most, Nene, to his mother, expressing her condolences and recalling Juan’s and her relationship. From these and other sources, the reader learns about not only Juan’s life but also the lives of the women who loved him. The transformations they undergo over the courses of their lives differ in detail but are similar in the essentials. Juan, for example, at the earliest point in the chronology is a dashing, athletic man-about-town. He has an affair with not only Nene but also his sister’s friend Mabel, among...

(The entire section contains 489 words.)

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