Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages

coverNot too long ago it was my pleasure to read Manuel Puig’s Borgesian-titled novel Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages. Except for a few documents that conclude the book, the story is told entirely through unattributed dialog between two characters–an elderly Argentenian exile now living in New York City and the 30-year-old man who is paid to push his wheelchair around.

The deal with this book is that each character seems uniquely suited to play a role in the other’s life. Both have repressed a lot of themselves and as the two chracters interact the begin to realize how entwined they are–even though they’re perfect strangers. It’s sort of like watching two strands of DNA meet and slowly wind into a double helix.

Puig gets a lot of mileage from the uncertainty created by dialog-only storytelling. I’m certain that a few of the chapters actually only feature one character, and are perhaps dreams or hallucinations, but it’s difficult to be sure. Also, there’s a fair amount of role-playing between the two characters, and it’s interesting to see their words tranform as they morph into these new personalities. Even though there’s very little scene setting and descriptive detail, Puig manages to draw robust characters, partly because of the uncertainty engendered by the way he approaches the dialog.

I’ll also say that this is an extremely Freudian book. The old man has son issues and the caretaker has father issues and, well, they’re pretty Freudian. Read the book and see what I mean.


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I discovered Puig in grad school in the 70s when a Comp Lit prof assigned Heartbreak Tango. I liked it so much that I ran out and read Betrayed by Rita Hayworth and his other books.
Around 1978, I saw a notice that Puig was going to appear at a function at the Argentine embassy and it was open to the public, so I went. He read and took questions, but everyone else, it was clear, was an Argentinian who had never heard of him or read his books — although they were very proud of their successful countryman. So their questions were all about Argentina.
I asked him about his narration through dialogue, multiple first-person narratives, that strange style where his comma splices run on for pages, and how he tells stories by describing official documents, photos, etc.
He told me that growing up in a macho country, he’d always felt different (Puig was pretty fem) and after he left the movie business and tried to write fiction, he felt he did not have the masculine authority to write in the third person.

The other deal is that Puig wrote the book in English, and, to my eye, the language is fresher and less stiff than many of the extant translations of Puig’s other works.

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