Friday, April 28, 2017

Dysfunctions Again

Fictional (and real) relationships that revolve around power inequities can function constructively; they can also leave the reader thinking, "That relationship will never work" or "That relationship shouldn't work."

Subjectivity definitely comes into play. Consequently, The Guilty by Katsura Izumi--which includes a relationship based on supposed domination--bothers me far less than Narise Konohara's Don't Tell Mama and Cold Sleep series, specifically Cold Fever, which includes one of the most aloof, submissive ukes on record.

Konohara is a decent psychologist. She sells the plausibility of her novels' relationships. The result is not "That relationship will never work" but, rather, "Yikes!!!!"

What separates a "well, that dynamic is problematic but that couple still has a future" relationship from a "Yikes!" relationship? Here are some possibilities:

1. The narrator is likable, even if supposedly passive.

Konahara, interestingly enough, tends to narrate from the seme (dominant character) perspective--and since her semes are usually rather disturbed, overwhelmingly needy and controlling individuals, reading her novels is rather like reading Hamlet from Claudius's perspective. Not a terrible idea, mind you. And not even artistically invalid. But rather troubling. Since she is a good writer, I always try to plow through her stuff. I gave up with Cold Fever--it included way too many chapters of disturbed, unhappy guy (shoot, I'd pick up Thomas Hardy or depressing French literature if I wanted to read that stuff). I much prefer her short "extra" at the end from the uke's point of view. 

The Guilty series, in comparison, is narrated almost entirely from Toya's point of view. He is ostensibly the uke. Like Taki of Maiden Rose, however, he exercises far more control than even he realizes. In addition, since the novels are from his point of view, the reader gets to see him working through his uncertainties and trepidations. This is a very different experience from feeling that a character is being forced/overwhelmed into a relationship.

2. The narrator is self-aware.

Truth: people aren't always all that self-aware. But it helps if they are. The Guilty series is rather light-weight--lots of snogging to a little bit of psychology (comparatively speaking). Yet, the psychology is entirely believable and well-conveyed as Toya struggles with his assumptions about the relationship and ponders his misreadings of Hodaka (see related post).

Toru of Cold Fever, on the other hand, never seems to know exactly why he is behaving the way that he does--which might actually be more realistic but doesn't make him more likable.

A common thread with romance novels is a narrator who is self-aware (to a point) but throws away that self-awareness/self-respect for the sake of love. Toya almost falls into this category but skirts the edge by walking away when he gets really miffed.

Those narrators--usually ukes--who will do anything for love leave me cold. I'm forced to the conclusion that such characters don't care if their partners have the morals of a sloth or the brains of a turnip. People who do anything for luuuuv will luuuuv anyone.

This is miles away from Jane Austen's Elizabeth who only falls for Darcy absolutely when she learns of his good character.

Interestingly, in the series S, when the protagonist Shiiba tries to argue to his lover that he is that type of guy (I'll do anything for love), his lover reminds him gently that actually, no, no, he isn't--he doesn't truly want to give up his job for the sake of the relationship; he just thinks he does.

To be continued . . .