Kiss of the Spider Woman

by

Author: Manuel Puig, translated from the Spanish by Thomas Colchie

Title: Kiss of the Spider Woman

Genre: Latin American Fiction, GLBTQ

Publication Date: 1978

Number of Pages: 281

Time period: Late 1970’s

Plot Summary: Perhaps one of the best-known works by Argentine novelist Manuel Puig, Kiss of the Spider Woman is a compelling look at love, sexuality, and human desire, as well as the manipulation and victimization of others that can result from this. Told almost entirely in back-and-forth dialogue between two characters, the story takes place in an Argentine prison where two men are incarcerated together. One is Molina, a gay window dresser convicted of sexual relations with a minor. He is self-absorbed, somewhat self-hating, yet still charming and sympathetic. The other is Valentin, a well-spoken and well-educated political prisoner who has dedicated his life to “the cause”. The two slowly, but guardedly, become attached to each other as they bond over Molina’s retellings of fantastical and romantic movies until their feelings result in sexual attraction. Interspersed throughout the novel are moments of stream-of-conscious prose and Puig’s plot twists and revelations exposed through brief dialogues between prison guards and wardens. There are also, seemingly at random, academic footnotes that recite the development of theories discussing the nature and “origination” of homosexuality.  This is a thoughtful, engaging, character-centered novel that is extremely moving and thought-provoking and, ultimately, about friendship and loyalty.

Subject Headings: Gay prisoners, Torture—Argentina, Prisoners—Argentina, Friendship, Loyalty.

Appeal Terms: Compelling, Moving, Thoughtful, Thought-provoking, Controversial, Romantic, Character-driven, Leisurely Paced, Complex, Literary, Emotional, Issue-oriented, Sparse, Engaging, Dark.

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: Romantic, Controversial, Character-driven

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

West, D.J. Homosexuality.  This is the work that is frequently cited in the footnotes contained in the book.  The footnotes are such that a reader is intrigued by the practice of psychoanalysis, even if they do not agree with it, and may want to learn more, starting with the book that Puig cites throughout the novel.

Freud, Sigmund. Three Case Histories.  Despite the controversy surrounding Freud’s theory, he is still the founding father of psychoanalytic theory, and he is featured prominently in Kiss of the Spider Woman.  This particular work is both fascinating and easy to read.  Freud should be read at least once by anyone, and this novel makes the reader want to pick up Freud’s work and see what it’s all about.

Chasteen, John Charles. Born in Blood & Fire: A Concise History of Latin America (3rd Ed.).  Readers may want to learn more about the history of Latin America after reading this novel.  It alludes to the political climate of the time but only in the way it affects the two main characters.  This is perhaps on purpose, for the novel leaves the reader wanting to learn more about the history of Latin America, specifically Argentina.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

Borges, Jorge Luis. Collected Fictions.  Borges is considered to be one of the most influential Argentine authors and is known for his short fiction.  NoveList calls him “a seminal figure in the magical realism movement”, Borges blends fantastical elements with reality.  This is similar to the way Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman tells fanstastical and romantic stories to pass the time in prison.  Molina’s stories are as much a part of the novel as the story of the two men in prison, so readers may also enjoy Borges’ magical realism.

Llosa, Mario Vargas.  The Feast of the Goat.  This Peruvian author, much like Puig, explores the darker side of human nature, but thoughtfully and with insight.  Also like Puig, his novels are often political and violent and contain elements of magical realism.  A little more stylistically complex than Kiss of the Spider Woman, this author writes thoughtful and haunting books that readers who liked Kiss of the Spider Woman will appreciate.

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia.  Any of the novels written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez will attract readers of Kiss of the Spider Woman.  A Colombian novelist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, Marquez is also a writer of magical realism and lush descriptions of Latin America.  His work is strongly character-centered and his storytelling techniques are unique and imaginative.

Rebecca C.

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