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Imagining an interview with Manuel Puig upon reading Betrayed By Rita Hayworth

– Manuel Puig, thank you for agreeing to talk to me.

– Of course. What I do want to talk about is your first novel, Betrayed by Rita Hayworth.

– It was your first novel?

– But why a novel? Why did you not write it as a screenplay? Or did you?

– I see. But did your screenwriting experience influence the way you wrote the novel?

– Well I was thinking particularly of the structure, especially the early chapters that are told entirely in dialogue. You even have one chapter that gives just one side of a telephone conversation.

– I know that’s not unusual in film, but it is not something you find in novels. That’s why I was wondering about how much Manuel Puig the screenwriter affected Manuel Puig the novelist.

– I presume, by the way, that you did know exactly what was being said at the other end of the telephone line?

– Really? And you didn’t think of putting that in the novel?

– But then, so much of the rest of the novel is decidedly unfilmic in structure, long interior monologues, stream of consciousness if you like.

– Were you reading the modernists, then?

– If think what I’m trying to get at is whether this was a deliberate attempt to get as far away from film as possible?

– The overlapping voices of the first chapter (not a particular feature of 1960s film); rambling, disconnected interior monologues that are often almost incoherent; and towards the end of the novel a variety of distinctly literary forms, a diary, a commonplace book, an essay, a letter. All of this looks like the exact opposite of what you might normally expect of a screenwriter.

– Yes, I know, I’m contradicting myself there. But somehow that contradiction seems to be implicit within the book.

– Right, but what about the modernist stuff? Do you see yourself as a modernist, or a postmodernist?

– Yes, I agree. But there is still the experimental quality of your work. Or would you describe it as experimental?

– Well, if not experimental, how about abstract? At least in the sense that so much is abstracted from what we have come to expect of a novel: identification of speakers, markers of place, physical description?

– Good. But the other movement, if you want to call it that, with which your name is always linked, is the whole Boom/post-Boom thing. How do you see your work in relation to that?

– Does being a Latin American novelist automatically qualify for inclusion in the Boom?

– Well, One Hundred Years of Solitude was only published the year before Betrayed by Rita Hayworth came out. It can’t have been much of an influence.

– Well, let’s go back to the start of the magic realist style, genre, call it what you will. Do you see Borges or Alejo Carpentier as particular or identifiable influences on your work?

– No, but you wouldn’t say you were influenced by contemporary North American writers either?

– So, if we’re talking influences, how much did your life influence Betrayed by Rita Hayworth?

– I know nothing about General Villegas, where you were born, is it very much like you describe Vallejos in the novel?

– And you are roughly the same age as Toto.

– No, I’m not trying to take a biographical approach to criticism. But I do note the coincidence, and wonder if there is much of your own family experience that found its way into the novel.

– Yes, I was going to ask you about that. Were you as fixated on film as Toto? You did, after all, try to become a screenwriter.

– So film really was an escape from the boredom of small town life?

– That did strike me when I read the novel. It’s rather a bold move to write your first novel about boredom, don’t you think?

– Okay, honestly, what do you think of Rita Hayworth?

– No, I won’t tell. Manuel Puig, thank you very much for speaking to me.

4 thoughts on “Imagining an interview with Manuel Puig upon reading Betrayed By Rita Hayworth

  1. Interesting aside is that Suzanne Jill Levine, when she was translating the text, had to inquire at times about what was being said on the other side. There’s something reassuring about that–i.e. Puig wasn’t being difficult for difficulty’s sake, that he wants us to puzzle with it and struggle with it but there’s ultimately an identifiable meaning there, that he intends his characters to communicate with one another, and thus with the reader. When confronted with the idea that his text epitomized “the Death of the Author” and other postmodern notions, Puig was willing to take credit for them while playing the naif, almost as if he had just stumbled on them unwittingly.

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