Expanded from a novella that first appeared in Douglas E. Winter’s anthology Revelations (1997), the silkily textured tale of two boys sold to a Peking Opera troupe is now a full-fledged transvestite fantasia.
In late-1930s Hong Kong, six-year-old Ji Fung is sold to the troupe by his crazy mother, who then murders the rest of the family and sets herself afire. Ji Fung falls in love with Lin Bai, a boy who plays women and is raped nightly by the company’s Master Lau. After several years, the Lucky Dragon café dismisses the troupe and turns to jazz. As Lau is about to kill Ji Fung, Lin Bai spears the master instead, and the boys hide out. They fall in with Perique, a wealthy French-Chinese hedonist, and later uncle Gong Sut Fo, a top Triad mobster, rescues Ji Fung from gangsters and gives him a job: he must deliver a lacquered box to Shanghai. But in Shanghai, Ji Fung, Lin Bai (in drag), and Perique are at a jewelry counter when falling bombs kill Perique, embedding his handsome face and eyes with diamonds, emeralds, and slivers of crystal: “Precious stones glittered in the flayed meat of his cheeks.” Lin Bai dies of his wounds, and Ji Fung leaves for Hollywood. By 1945, he’s an Asian bit player who tends bar on weekends, fights his emptiness, and lusts after transvestite café singer Tansy Chan. Tansy (Victor) is only one of many cross-dressers, including hard-boiled mystery screenwriter Blake Blackline (really Nan Blake), who skulk across the page as the novel shifts into artfully bloody Hollywood noir, while weaving in unflinching depictions of bigotry against gays and Asians. Then the story leaps into the present. Be warned: graphic sex splits the page and puts an Eastern shimmer on a boy’s “silken muscle”; it won’t be to everyone’s taste.
For the adventurous, then: wonderfully well told.