As many of you know, the Voyage Out is a regional book group. This means we pick groups of books, usually three to a group, and read them one after the other. Last meeting we chose a new region: Latin American Literature. We chose our first book: Roberto Bolano’s By Night in Chile. We will choose our next two books at this month’s meeting. Throughout the month, I will be highlighting possible choices. If you want to highlight something, email me at email@example.com or just write your thoughts in the comments section.
At this month’s meeting we will be discussing the third book in our Contemporary Female Novelists of England. The book is Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body. The meeting will be May 26th at 5pm. All are welcome!
Readers of Argentine writer Manuel Puig have come to expect certain constants from this highly versatile novelist: innovative narrative techniques, dark comedy, and a preoccupation with the effects of popular culture, particularly film, on the human spirit. He was born in 1932 in General Villegas, a small town on the Argentine pampas, and began studying English at the age of ten in order to better understand the American movies he saw every afternoon with his mother. In 1946 he went to Buenos Aires to an American boarding school and then to the University of Buenos Aires, where his interests expanded to include literature, psychology, and philosophy. But his primary ambition was to direct films. In 1955 he went to film school in Italy on a scholarship. The school proved to be a disappointment; he left Italy and traveled to Paris and London, working on screenplays and supporting himself as a language teacher and dishwasher. Puig then returned to the Americas, going first to Buenos Aires and later to New York, and began writing fiction. His first novel, Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, an autobiographical account of his provincial childhood, was published in Buenos Aires in 1968.
Over the next twenty years, Puig lived in Mexico City, Buenos Aires, New York and Rio de Janeiro and wrote seven more novels: Heartbreak Tango (1969); The Buenos Aires Affair (1973); The Kiss of the Spider Woman (1976); Pubis Angelical (1979); Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages (1980); Blood of Requited Love (1982); and Cae la noche tropical (1988), which has not been published yet in English. Puig’s early passion for the movies is evident both in his narrative style, which relies heavily on dialogue, and in the lives of his characters, where the glamorous and idealized world of films serves as a counterpoint to their own disappointments.
About the Book:
Awash in small-town gossip, petty jealousy, and intrigues, Manuel Puig’s Heartbreak Tango is a comedic assault on the fault lines between the disappointments of the everyday world, and the impossible promises of commercials, pop songs, and movies. This melancholy and hilarious tango concerns the many women in orbit around Juan Carlos Etchepare, an impossibly beautiful Lothario wasting away ever-so-slowly from consumption, while those who loved and were spurned by him move on into workaday lives and unhappy marriages. Part elegy, part melodrama, and part dirty joke, this wicked and charming novel demonstrates Manuel Puig’s mastery of both the highest and lowest forms of life and culture.
Review that interested me:
Review by Chad Post
The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Larissa Kyzer on Manuel Puig’s Heartbreak Tango, translated from the Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine and reissued by Dalkey Archive Press earlier this year with a new introduction by Francisco Goldman.
Puig’s an all-time favorite of mine, and in my opinion, this is his best book. (Even better than Kiss of the Spider Woman.) (I’m actually flipping through the new Dalkey edition as I type and thinking about rereading this over the weekend . . .) Puig was an amazing writer, and although I wish Open Letter could’ve been the press to reprint his early works, it’s great that Dalkey is making all of these available again.
Larissa Kyzer is a frequent reviewer for us, her most recent review (like two weeks ago recent) was of Sofi Oksanen’s Purge. (Larissa knows a lot about Scandinavian lit, which is why she reviews a lot of Nordic books for us.)
Here’s the opening of her review:
Built on recollections of his small hometown in the heart of the Argentine pampas, Manuel Puig’s Heartbreak Tango is a dizzy and heartfelt pastiche of seduction, jealousy, daydreams, and spoiled hopes in the lives of a self-indulgent and consumptive Casanova named Juan Carlos, his workingman best friend, and the women who suffer their affections. Blending documentary-style narration with the melodrama of radio plays and the clear-eyed aspirations of Golden Age Hollywood musicals, Puig intermixes high and low art—“the avant-garde with popular appeal,” he once wrote—so as to delight and entertain while mercilessly laying bear the hypocrisies and regressiveness of village life.
In her biography Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman, imminent Latin American translator Suzanne Jill Levine (who was also close friends with the author) notes that “Manuel saw Villegas [his hometown] as an ongoing melodrama or, translated to radio, a soap opera like the ones people used to listen to every afternoon . . .” Speaking of his friends and neighbors, Levine explains that, “. . . their feelings were the feelings of characters in a melodrama, and they spoke the language of those old songs, radio plays, and movies to which they were addicted.”
Heartbreak Tango likewise stages itself as a serial drama, and is divided into sixteen “episodes,” comprised of letters, newspaper clippings, police reports, diary entries, and scenes of dialog. Each episode is preceded by one of the myriad advertisements, tag lines, and song lyrics that surround these characters and color their points of view. “As long as you can smile, success can be yours!” claims a toothpaste commercial. “He treated her rough, and she loved it!” winks the tag line for a Jean Harlow film.