Monday, January 30, 2017

The Moon grows dimmer and the tide's low ebb

So, a few months back, someone bought me tickets to see Kander & Ebb's Kiss of the Spider Woman at a local theater. I'd seen the movie several years ago, but I'd never read the book that inspired both.

And the book is a whole different beast than either adaption.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Kiss centers around two inmates in an Argentine prison. Molina, a rather feminine gay man, spends much of his time telling stories of movies he loves to his cellmate, Valentin, a political prisoner being held for Communist activities against the not Communist Argentine government of the 1970s.

Over time, they become friends and eventually lovers, although Valentin remains unaware that Molina has been promised parole if he can get names or contact information out of Valentin. Towards the end, Molina does indeed get paroled, but he never does give up Valentin. Mind you, when he does indeed contact Valentin's friends, he winds up getting killed by said friends while being arrested by government. Valentin obviously knows about this at the end, since as he's in the infirmary being treated for 3rd degree burns and being hooked on morphine to eventually make him talk, he stream of consciousness creates his own fantasy island with his beloved Marta, the bourgeois woman he loves, even if she doesn't particularly return that love due to the nature of their cause.

Did I mention this isn't exactly a happy story?

It took me a while to get into the novel. Most of it is written as dialogue between the two main characters, with only a dash to denote a change of speaker. Like

-Eat the rice paste, it will make you feel better
-No, not unless you finish the movie you started last night.

While that is not an actual quote, it does give you an idea, and accurately sums up much of the early conversation. The non dialog consists of reports from the Warden's office or a report of Molina's activities after parole, or some really long footnotes discussing psychological causes of homosexuality.

Speaking of, for me a reader in 2017, there is a bit of a question as to whether or not Molina is actually gay. While he is indeed male, he identifies as a woman at various points in his dialog. However, having known a few older gay men who do the same thing, it could be that this is again a function of gay culture in the era.

Another question I was left with was whether or not Valentin truly loved Molina. I think, maybe yes, but not as wholly as Molina might have wished. More than anything, I think Molina showed Valentin that maybe people can be more important than the cause.

Oh, and of note here, since none of the adaptions particularly keeps the movies in the book, two of them wind up being bad horror movies. One involving the woman dealing with her new husband's zombie wife, and the other (which starts off the book) involving a woman who believe that if she were to kiss a man, she'd turn into a panther and eat him. That's kind of important, since not long before Molina's parole, Valentin tells Molina that Molina isn't a panther woman, but rather a spider woman, her kisses drawing men into her web like flies. It's actually a rather touching moment, for all of its oddness.

Am I happy I read this? Yeah. It's heavy reading, and a reminder that even in hell, there remains hope of redemption and ways to escape, even if only mentally in the worst situations.