Through the figure of La La, a tragic (child) victim/heroine not unlike the stars La La idolizes, Kim Gek Lin Short explores questions of agency and exploitation—emphasis on exploitation.
Short is an elegant, entrancing writer, and her second book-length collection is both devastating and uncomfortably enjoyable. China Cowboy is a loosely constructed, fluid narrative, told via prose poetry that adopts the double tone of a tragicomedy: La La taking a carnivalesque romp through a sorrowful Patsy Cline album. It moves freely between the grotesque and the surreal, and reads simultaneously like a concept album and a biopic. This multilevel formal hybridity reflects and informs its investigation of La La’s hybrid existence as a Chinese girl with American dreams, a hybridity that is also reflected in its design: the book’s cover and section title pages are fashioned after film posters that mix the iconography of classic American Westerns and ’70s-era Chinese martial arts films.