Manuel Puig 1932–
Puig is one of the leaders of the recent Latin American literary development known as the Boom. Like the work of his contemporaries José Donoso, Carlos Fuentes, Severo Sarduy, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Gabriel García Márquez, Puig's fiction is stimulated by the political and social tensions in Latin America. These writers are linked by their experimentation with literary form, their concern with unconscious and irrational forces in human life, and their pioneering portrayal of the lower classes of Latin America. Puig has received special critical attention for his innovative narrative style. By interlocking his characters' dialogues and internal monologues with fragments of newspaper and magazine articles, conversations from soap operas, Hollywood movies, trivial novels, and lyrics from mundane popular songs, Puig suggests that individuals supplant spontaneous emotion and reaction with their hackneyed counterparts portrayed in popular art forms. His plots, which resemble those of serials and detective stories, rely heavily on sentimentality and cliché, but most critics agree that the demand on the reader to assimilate a montage of information and the irony created by the gaps between the characters' real and imagined lives give Puig's work the status of serious literature.
In his initial works, La traicion de Rita Hayworth (1968; Betrayed by Rita Hayworth) and Boquitas pintadas (1969; Heartbreak Tango), Puig depicts the poor inhabitants of the Argentinian pampas who fantasize about the glamorous lives of movie and dance idols rather than confronting their own emotionally weak relationships. The financially successful Leo and Gladys of his third and more complex work, The Buenos Aires Affair (1973), are ostensibly closer to a glorified media image, yet in imitating stereotypical male and female roles they are unable to achieve spiritual satisfaction, and the romantic ideal is revealed to be even more of an illusion than in his earlier novels. Somewhat similar are the imprisoned characters in El beso de la mujer arana (1976; The Kiss of the Spider Woman), who recount movie plots as a means of avoiding boredom and loneliness. However, since the sharing of the plots engenders communication and understanding between these ideologically opposed cellmates, popular art is here shown to be a positive, unifying force.
Because Puig's characters allow the world of attractive images to replace a dull reality, critics find implicit in all his works the theme of subjective truth. Maldicion eterna a quien lea estas paginas (1982; Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages) treats this issue directly. Told almost entirely through dialogue, the shifting factual information and confused time frames of the novel create a tense aura of uncertainty. Although the clarification of facts with the presentation at the novel's end of letters and documents is criticized as anticlimactic, Puig's continued experimentation with technique is praised.
Puig's treatment of such complex issues as politics, sexual power, homosexuality, and violence is seen by some critics as superficial, but is generally regarded as insightful and moving. These issues have aroused enough controversy in Argentina to cause Puig's books to be banned, and Puig has left his country to live in the United States.
(See also CLC, Vols. 3, 5, 10; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 45-48; and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 2.)