The recent media exposé on the founder of independent bookstore BooksActually has set pens wagging within the sleepy literary community in Singapore.
Former female employees revealed in a Rice Media article on Saturday (Sep 25) that founder Kenny Leck, 43, had allegedly preyed on young female employees, some of whom he went on a consensual relationship with.
The story sounds like a leaf out of the #MeToo movement but is this a case of a Harvey Weinstein or a charming playboy getting penance from his jilted bunnies?
Kenny first thought of opening a bookstore while he was working as a inventory specialist at the Borders bookstore. There, he met Rachel Chee, later a minority shareholder in BooksActually, while he was acquainted with co-founder Karen Wai through a mutual friend.
To open the store, Kenny, then 28, and Karen, then 21, invested all their savings and borrowed S$20,000 from Karen’s mother.
In 2005 they took the plunge and opened BooksActually on the second floor of a shophouse along Telok Ayer Street with an additional injection of capital.
Pictured: Karen Wai & Kenny Leck
Leck of love
In 2010, Karen broke off her romance with Kenny but remained as a co-partner of the bookstore.
At the same time, Kenny went on a relationship with another employee (currently unidentified). It was not elaborated in the Rice Media article if Karen's breakup with Kenny was a result of the third-party relationship.
In 2011, BooksActually moved to Yong Siak Street. In the same year, a 19-year-old Renée Ting joined the company as an employee. Leck was turning 34 then.
Not long after Renée started her job at the bookstore, Kenny started showing romantic interest in her.
“At that point, I didn’t think there was anything wrong,” she admitted. Although Renée initially likened it to mentorship, she later became “okay with romantic advances" - despite knowing that Kenny was already in a relationship.
They got together after Kenny dumped the other employee he was in a relationship with.
Both Kenny and Renée dated for six years before they tied the knot on October 2016.
According to the Rice article, Kenny had made progress during his marriage to another employee aged 22, mentioned by the pseudonym Mel, whom he told he would “phase Renee out” for her over the next two years.
By early 2017, the couple divorced.
Both Renée and 'Mel' left the store subsequently.
Pictured: Renée Ting & Kenny Leck
The article rambled about how a homeless Renée "poured herself into BooksActually...(become) Kenny's unwavering partner, devoted to his literary dream."
In a nutshell, the article painted Renée as being in a bad place groomed by a "powerful" predator.
But "when someone allows another to take advantage, is it the fault of the one taken advantage of, or the one taking advantage", a netizen asked.
The netizen added:
"But just because women are not in a good place still does not make him a predator. Could it be that he was also a human in a bad place? From the accounts, he did not assault any of them. That’s where I would draw the line. He used his economic leverage to ask for permission to hold her hand? Does that sound predatory?"
"Just because a woman is not in an economically strong position does not make her powerless. They can still make a decision to get another job. They hoped he would be their meal ticket. When it didn’t work out, that’s life, not predation."
In retrospect, a neutral observer might proffer an alternative plot: a jilted Renée disappointed with Kenny's extra-marital affair decides to spill tea.
An irony considering that Renée herself willingly accepted Kenny's romantic advances despite knowing he was already in another relationship.
One thing is for certain: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Something Kenny doesn't seem to understand as he is presently in a relationship with yet another employee.