Jessica's Reviews > Kiss of the Spider Woman

Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig
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Dec 14, 2008

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bookshelves: don-t-cry-for-me, crime-and-punishment, love-and-other-indoor-sports, hagging-out
Read in December, 2008

So funny thing, I actually started this book once when I was a kid, maybe about nine years old? Strangely, I thought I remembered what I'd read really clearly, but then on this rereading realized I'd read more of it before than I'd previously realized. Also funny, my passion for this book waned around the same place this time as when I was nine, though this time I stuck with it and followed through to the end.

So this book takes place in a Latin American prison cell occupied by a political prisoner and a window-dressing, mama-adoring homosexual. The beginning, and much of the novel throughout, is the gay guy recounting old films he's seen, in incredible detail.

Okay. So. All you English majors out there probably know what these are called, the fantastical, shimmering stories-within-stories that are so much more purely imaginative and sensual and far out than the main story itself ever could be -- you know what I mean, like the interludes in Don Quixote and Judy Blume's Starring Sally J. Freeman as Herself and Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle and a thousand other books I can't think of right now.... There's something about those kinds of stories that I really wish I could get at here, but I probably can't. What are they like? They're like the icing, but you can't just eat the can of icing (not that I haven't, but it isn't good, or it is, but it makes you nauseous). The stories are like the silk rose on your underpants, but you can't just have underpants made up of silk roses. They're the non-porn sex scene, the roller coaster drop, the hook of the song, the cherry on the sundae, the beauty mark, the car detailing, the best part of the show.... I know these are super lame, useless, pedestrian analogies, but I've been wanting to write this review for days and the right words just haven't come, so in the end I thought I'd just say what I could and appeal to you all for help. Do you guys know what I mean? I mean the thing that is the best thing, but you can't have it just alone, because it isn't good by itself. You can't have just holidays all the time every day, they don't mean anything without the mundane regular days in between..... These stories-within-stories are like that. I know writers have tried to do away with the dull base as much as possible -- Chaucer springs to mind? -- and just have the stories, but it isn't the same rush and delight. Why is that?

Well, I guess some of that's extremely obvious. The films in this book are so beautifully told that it's a just a pure pleasure to read them, but what makes them so compelling is knowing these characters and experiencing what it is to consume these narratives both directly yourself, but also through them. The first film in here, an erotic horror movie about a panther woman, I remembered clearly from my childhood reading of this book, and this time I realized that back then I got partway through the second film, which is a completely over-the-top Third Reich propaganda romance, before the nine-year-old me got freaked out and confused by the Nazi element, and bored with the two grown-man prisoners, so then bailed for a Sweet Valley High or something.

Anyway, I just loved the first half of this book. In my scoring system, a four-star book is one I think about when I'm not reading it and am always excited to pick up, while a three-star is one I have to push myself a little to return to sometimes, out of a sense of obligation and desire to get through. Kiss of the Spider Woman shifted from a four to a three about midway through, which had not a little to do with the footnotes.

Footnotes in fiction.... well, we should not speak ill of the dead, and sometimes they're good, but in general they are.... not.... always.... my favorite thing. Especially here. The footnotes here felt like the total opposite of those sugary, thrilling stories-in-story: they were the sand in the spinach, the fly in my soup. Who was supposed to be writing these footnotes? At first I thought it was like an annotated transcript compiled by the jailers, but that wasn't it. Will someone who's read this please explain what the hell these Freud and Marcuse footnotes about the etiology of homosexuality were about? Because I just really didn't get it at all. Was he trying to make an analogy between homosexuality and Marxism? For awhile it seemed like that was where he was going. Was Puig trying to say that commies are fags? Because I've heard that before, and I'm not sure he needed all the psychoanalytic footnotes to say it, he could've just had a mean fratboy pop his head in the cell and make that point.... I mean, I don't know, maybe I'm just cranky, because I don't think that's necessarily a bad point if that was where he was going with it, but I can't help it, the footnotes just really screwed things up for me. Maybe I'm too dumb and impatient, I don't know, but I just found them distracting and incomprehensible.... And it sucks when you're reading something and you just don't get it! So yeah, maybe it's my own fault, but the footnotes were a huge problem for me, and really yanked me out of the narrative, which was sad because for the most part I really did love this book.

Oh yeah, so far this isn't much of a review. I did really like this book, which is beautifully written, and I'd love to see the movie, which I bet is good, especially since this reads like a script -- or actually scripts. It was a lovely thing to read right after Darkness at Noon, and I feel it'd be a nice segue to Our Lady of the Flowers, but I'm not sure I'm up for that right now. Kiss of the Spider Woman is one of the most romantic books I've read, and it made me realize yet again what a sucker I am for romance novels. If you, too, are secretly enamored of love, movies, and/or storytelling, you should probably read this. I liked what I personally took Puig to be saying about love, which might be that love is a childish fallacy, a campy pasteboard concoction, a screen for vile propaganda, an escape, a distraction, a desperation, a helpless Freudian outgrowth from early childhood.... but also it's everything. In the end, it's all there is. And maybe that's corny and not what he meant, but that's what I got, and I'll buy it.

I'm really sad because I read Rachel's gorgeous edition with the spectacular movie cover of the lovely blue Spider Woman with her ferns and her web, and it's not an option on here, and it's so beautiful I can't even stand it! Can anyone fix that?
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Jessica Here's another thing that sucked about the footnotes: a lot of the reviewers on here make the point that this book is written almost entirely in dialogue. The thing for me was that I didn't think that was a point worth making, because I barely noticed it, which is a good thing. The form was so natural to the story that it didn't seem like a shtick or even like a conscious decision -- it just seemed like the only possible natural way to tell the story, which means, in my opinion, that it was a total success. And then the footnotes came along and totally destroyed all that for me and made me wonder who the hell was supposed to be telling this story and why was it written the way that it was, and maybe that was the whole point, but anyway, I didn't like it.


message 2: by Ruth (new) - added it

Ruth Applause. You're in top form on this one!


message 3: by Manny (new)

Manny Another great review! I loved the movie, think you have persuaded me to read the book as well. Wittgenstein probably felt the same way as you do about icing, silk roses etc. Here's the quote (for more details, see http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/arti...

"Raisins may be the best part of a cake; but a bag of raisins is not better than a cake; and someone who is in a position to give us a bag full of raisins still can’t bake a cake with them, let alone do something better. I am thinking of Kraus and his aphorisms, but of myself too and my philosophical remarks. A cake - that isn’t as it were: thinned-out raisins."





Jessica Yeah! The first one! The blue one! The movie cover! BEAUTIFUL!


Jessica Yay team! Thanks, Monica. Yer the best.


message 7: by Oriana (new) - added it

Oriana Not to sound redundant, but fabulous review, Jessica. I never would have suspected this of being a book I'd want to read... As I was composing this note in my head, I realized that I've conflated Puig with Puzo, so I guess I figured this was some kind of mafia book. Yeesh.


message 8: by Lynn (new)

Lynn I may own this book, as you claim I do, but I am sure I never got very far in it because none of this sounds familiar. So I probably just got bored early on and stopped.
But the film is very memorable and I remember liking it a lot, though I haven't seen it since it was released, sometime in the 70s.


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