Painted mouths

Manuel Puig published for the first time painted mouths in 1969 and probably did not imagine that, 50 years later, it would be remembered as a pioneering work in giving a voice to women of different socioeconomic classes, all oppressed by the social norms of their time.

Reissued this year by Six Barral and distributed by Planet Groupthe novel is inspired by the events and customs of Puig’s hometown and portrays how the lives of the inhabitants of Coronel Vallejos, a town lost in the Buenos Aires pampas at the end of the 30s, are intertwined.

To what goals can the characters aspire according to the moral and material codes of their time and geography? What are the mandates that women must fulfill when they reach young adulthood? What paths are they enabled to follow to maintain or raise their social status?

“My dear friend: I am alone in the world, alone (…). Look, I’m going to die with this life that I lead, nothing more than working in the house and disowning the boys (…). I can’t take the same thing every day anymore.”

painted mouthsManuel Puig

Presented as a serial in 16 installments, painted mouths follows, on the one hand, the life of Juan Carlos Etchepare, a man without direction and with a rampant illness who is divided between three women: Nené, Mabel and the widow Di Carlo. On the other hand, it recounts the misadventures of Raba, the town doctor’s maid, and Pancho, the bricklayer who became a police officer.

The author resorts to social and representative stereotypes of his time: the well-to-do girl who becomes a teacher, the young working-class woman nostalgic for a youthful affair who finds herself trapped in an unbearable marriage, the lazy gallant who only wants to feign economic status. highest and the domestic worker of humble origins who is perhaps the one who receives the kindest end, as a slight redemption for her sufferings.

A keen observer, Puig sets his lens, stops his gaze steeped in the world of cinema and gives way to colloquial language to turn these stereotypes into deep and endearing characters, who have illusions, repress desires and build aspirations.

The originality of the novel lies in how the author narrates the story that travels in the timeline through a collage of different texts and formats: letters, private diaries, chaotic internal monologues, notes, funeral announcements, press articles and even the reading of a deck of tarot at the hands of the village gypsy. In addition, he manages to talk about sexuality, exploration, desire and abuse of power almost without being explicit and manages to dive into the depths of the protagonists’ thoughts.

“I did not write Boquitas… as a parody, but as the story of people from the petty bourgeoisie who, as the first generation of Argentines, had to invent a style,” he proclaims in The brochure is reborna note published jointly with the Argentine screenwriter and journalist Aída Bortnik in 1969.

Conceived as an experimental novel, Puig takes a sharp look at rural life and addresses themes that are repeated throughout his work: the weight of moral codes, sex seen as a sin, various prejudices and the imposition of mandates and aspirations on women. and dissidence, undoubtedly inspired by the oppression that he himself suffered. Faced with the growing homo-hatred that stalked him and threats from the de facto government, the writer was forced into exile in Mexico during the last military dictatorship after publishing the novel The kiss of spider women (1976).

Through his pen, Manuel Puig broke molds and achieved with painted mouths an unforgettable novel that allows you to travel to the opaque life of a Buenos Aires town in the 20th century, but also to reflect on its validity in these times.

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Painted mouths – Feminacida