Written at the height of his powers, Kiss of the Spider Woman is arguably Puig’s best and most famous novel. It was his first novel written after Puig left Argentina to escape political repression, his previous novel, The Buenos Aires Affair, having been banned for sexual explicitness. In light of this, Kiss of the Spider Woman, whose two main characters are a homosexual and a Marxist communist, may be seen as Puig’s public refusal to accommodate himself and his art to the forces of fear and bigotry.
The novel hardly has a plot in the usual sense, that is, a series of events building upon one another to a clear climax and resolution. The novel is composed primarily of dialogue between the characters: Molina, a thirty-seven-year-old window dresser, imprisoned for being what he is, a homosexual, and Valentin, a twenty-six-year-old Marxist imprisoned for political activities.
At the beginning of the novel the two seem to be antagonists, not so much due to bigotry but because each sees the other’s philosophy and lifestyle as irrelevant. Valentin does not look down on Molina because he is homosexual so much as he finds a commitment to homosexuality a selfish waste in a world that cries out for political reform. To Molina, Valentin’s political philosophy is an airy abstraction that does not measure up to the individual need for love and passion.
Molina dominates the dialogue, at least in terms of who talks more, and he demonstrates his love of beauty and passion by describing in ever-greater detail the plots of some of his favorite films. Valentin’s near-constant interruptions are, in part at least, deliberate attempts to destroy the flow of Molina’s narratives, thus underscoring Valentin’s scorn for what Molina holds dear. When, less frequently, Valentin holds forth on leftist political doctrine, Molina returns the favor with his own interruptions.
A reader may note, however, that over the course of apparently trivial exchanges, important transformations are occurring in both characters. Valentin, secretly being poisoned by the authorities, begins to view Molina’s narratives as a welcome distraction from his suffering; his newfound sensitivity reaches a culmination when he makes love to Molina. For his part Molina—consumed by self-interest to the point of agreeing to extract information from his cell mate in return for a promise of early release—comes to view Valentin with sympathy and compassion, risking his own privileged status with the warden to get better treatment for Valentin.
The novel ends tragically, with Molina gunned down while trying to deliver a message to Valentin’s comrades and with Valentin tortured horribly, hallucinating a vision very similar to Molina’s film plots. Still, the novel is hopeful in the sense that two persons seemingly irreconcilably opposed finally learn to accept and love each other.
Molina, an effeminate gay window dresser in Argentina, is growing discontented with the frivolous life he leads with his...
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