by Connie Bailey, contemporary (2009)
Dreamspinner Press, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-61581-014-7
I am horribly allergic on the most part to Japanese entertainment. Japanese pop music and those androgynous dead-eyed boys that make those music scare me. Japanese yaoi on the whole make me want to press a copy of Erica Jong's Fear of Flying against my bosom - all those weeping submissive little boys and the cold-hearted men they debase themselves to terrify me even more than the dead-eyed pop stars. Combine these two and I get Kaji Sukoshi & The Shining One, which on paper is pretty much something that I would normally read with all the joy of a lemming resigned to her fate.
So don't ask me why I read this book. I think it's the cover art and the unexpectedly intriguing synopsis on the publicity material. At any rate, I end up reading this baby and, to my surprise, I reach the last page without feeling as if I've finished swallowing a few dozen rotten eggs. Seriously, there are few things I consider more unattractive than the combo of J-pop and yaoi. I am really surprised at how I don't find this an excruciating read.
Meet Benjamin Blume. He's a big fan of everything Japanese. He even goes to Japan, take in some foundlings from the streets, and make a band out of them. Not that there is anything wrong with this, of course. The band, Hayate, features the "barely legal" lead singer Kaji who is featured in the title of this story. The Shining One is Kazuki, the latest pop sensation in Japan. To keep the fujoshi happy, Kazuki needs a pretty boy to show up at public events by his side to give the impression that these two men may be more than friends. Hey, don't laugh - this method works wonders for Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. Just look at their online fujoshi following. At any rate, Kaji is roped in to become Kazuki's pretend boyfriend. Kaji, however, has had a crush on Kazuki for a long time now. Like any proper submissive in a yaoi story, he keeps the torch burning for Kazuki even when the Shining One treats him like dirt.
Ben thinks he understands, however, because his love-hate relationship with Rune, a singer, almost parallels the relationship of Kaji and Kazuki. Rune reappears in Ben's life wanting to give them another go, and Ben finds himself conflicted between being a blushing maiden in Rune's arms and keeping Rune at arm's length for the sake of his own heart.
I'm sorry but there is really no way that I can relate in any way to these characters. I'm not a yaoi person, remember? However, there is something about the story that has an Eddie And The Cruisers vibe to it which I find unexpectedly intriguing. Ben conducts the first person narrative duty in this story, and I find that Ms Bailey has given him an engaging and interesting narrative "voice". It also helps that with the story being told from Ben's point of view, there is a distance between me and the two ridiculous melodramatic J-pop dudes. I really do not want to even get into Kaji's head to know what the strange doormat is thinking, so I really should thank the author for choosing to tell the story from Ben's point of view. While I do not relate to the dynamics of the relationships, I find myself interested enough nonetheless to keep turning the pages in order to determine how these four melodramatic men will sort out their personal soap opera.
It's interesting - from my previous encounters with stories by this author, I'd say that the way she sometimes manages to capture the rawness of her characters' emotions often make up for her unrealistic dialogs and stilted prose. This story demonstrates perfectly how the author's style can reel me in despite everything else. The writing isn't always the most polished and three of the four characters give me the creeps, but the unabashed melodramatic emotions burning from the pages have my attention hooked nonetheless.
No, at the end of the day I am not going to turn into a yaoi fangirl anytime soon, I'm afraid, and I'm also not going to start importing those ridiculously expensive CDs from Japan. Still, I find Kaji Sukoshi & The Shining One a pretty interesting and very readable story despite the fact that I really, really, really do not like the subject matter and I would rather chew on broken glass than to be stuck in an elevator with any of these guys. Well, what can I say? Score one for Connie Bailey, I suppose.
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