Kiss of the Spider Woman is Manuel Puig's fourth and best-known novel. It was first published in Spanish in 1976 as El beso de la mujer arana, then translated and published in English in 1979. Puig became most popularly known to the English-speaking public for the critically acclaimed 1985 screen adaptation of Kiss of the Spider Woman, starring William Hurt, Raul Julia, and Sonia Braga.
Kiss of the Spider Woman focuses on two characters: Valentin, a Marxist revolutionary, and Molina, a homosexual window-dresser, who share a prison cell for six months. Molina passes the time by telling Valentin the stories of his favorite movies in great detail. Valentin at first reluctantly listens to Molina's narration of these tales of melodramatic romance, criticizing Molina for indulging in escapist fantasies rather than in political activism. But Valentin eventually becomes enthralled with the stories, as he becomes emotionally drawn to Molina. Molina, meanwhile, has secretly agreed to elicit information from Valentin in order to pass it on to the prison authorities. Over the course of their confinement, however, the two men fall in love and ultimately become lovers. Upon his release from prison, Molina agrees to help Valentin in his political cause by passing on important information to his fellow revolutionaries.
Kiss of the Spider Woman focuses on the theme of the conflict between personal emotions, relationships, and desires vs. political idealism and activism. Valentin begins as a revolutionary who disregards pleasure and romance, while Molina begins as a man obsessed with the escapist fantasies provided by movies. As a result of their interactions, however, the two men transform one another, Valentin eventually succumbing to his emotional and physical desire for Molina, and Molina agreeing to sacrifice himself for Valentin's political cause. Puig's novel also employs experimental narrative techniques in its use of dialogue and fragmentary information, such as letters and prison reports, as well as in the extensive use of footnotes, which present a discussion of the psychological literature on homosexuality throughout the novel. Kiss of the Spider Woman is also characteristic of Puig's fiction in its extensive reference to classic cinema and its profound effect on the lives of his characters as a means of escapist fantasy.