china cowboy

China Cowboy (Tarpaulin Sky Press)

Distributed by: Tarpaulin Sky Press | Small Press Distribution | Amazon | Powells


In the technicolor timewarp called HELL, HONG KONG wannabe cowgirl La La is hellbent on realizing her dream to be a folk-singing sensation, even if it means surviving a dysfunctional relationship with her kidnapper, Ren, who is just hellbent. Ren thinks he’ll win, but La La, dead or alive, always wins.


Heated & heartbreaking, China Cowboy charms like wedding cans, flesh-filled, on tarmac. This car (perhaps an old, long Cadillac with longhorns glaring & charred) contains a man, Ren: a “family man” or “something commensurate.” La-La: our heroine. & the driver, guiding us expertly over the bluegrass, bodies & Time Warps of Hell, child abuse, power & Country Music is Kim Gek Lin Short. —Rauan Klassnik

Moving between the explicit descriptions of the Marquis de Sade and the implicit ironies of Nabokov, these pieces are excruciatingly compelling, so infernal as they are related in languages variously pornographic and desperately, radically tender. Short’s brilliant tragicomedy can be read as a metaphor for China’s dynamic with American culture or the story of any determined enterprising youth whose eager “bloody head” under a bumbling tyrant’s “boot is bent.” A bold, imaginative, timely work from a courageous and complex thinker. —Heidi Lynn Staples

China Cowboy is more hydra than hybrid, a slim monster sprouting new directions for form, narrative, culture, and identity. Meanwhile, everything it bites comes to vicious, gorgeous life.” —Christian TeBordo

La La is a myth-making myth. What we learn from her is that we all are. Born in Hong Kong to a family of thieves, she survives by giving herself fully to her religion—Americana. Her saints: Loretta Lynn and Clint Eastwood. Even after being kidnapped and brutally tortured by one of her family’s victims—ironically a farmer from Missouri named Ren—she asks herself, “what would Patsy Cline do?” The answer: “she’d belt every song in that / scratchy face.”  Composed primarily of prose blocks that miraculously retain the surprise of linebreaks, this fragmented narrative chronicles their dreams, delusions, and horrific physical lives. La La and Ren are as searing as any characters I’ve encountered—Henry and Mr. Bones, Lolita and Humbert Humbert, Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill, etc.—and we share with them the reality that something must be imagined in order to keep going. Mired in what he is doing to La La, even Ren can comfort himself: “I grasp myself with my arms and say it is / almost too much to contain, this happiness.” La La can only respond by yelling “into her microphone: ‘Shut up, Lao Ren! I caint hear / myself sing!'” —Chris Tonelli


The Lovely Bones this ain’t. China Cowboy is a satanically intricate narrative with seemingly infinite vantage points in space, time and sympathy. . . .Short has expanded and fused the poetic and narrative fields, creating a zone where elegance and grace can gambol with the just-plain-fucked-up.” –Sarah Heady at HTML GIANT

“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.” –Megan Milks at American Book Review

“[China Cowboy] is often grossly disturbing and excruciatingly seductive, catching the reader in a tense push and pull with and against the text. Sticky and stuck among the fucking and fucked-up, Short binds us within tales of fierce femme survival as her main character, the feisty and fisty La La, avenges the repeated death of Hollywood’s “dragon lady” with her boots, her mic, and her “country superstar humility.” –Jai Arun Ravine at Lantern Review

“When you pick up this book (and you should) be prepared to hold both your brightest hopes for humanity and darkest emotional expectations in a precarious balance. By the time you put it down again, the scales of your psyche will never be quite the same. ” — Travis Macdonald at Fact-Simile.

China Cowboy pulls me deep into ‘the belly of Hell,’ a genre and voice-switching push-and-pull that La La with her indomitable will refuses to give way to.” –Martha Reed at Horseless Press

“Read this on buses to and back from New York. It should’ve been raining cowboy spurs. This is the story of a country singer named La La kidnapped from her Hong Kong home by an American soybean artist named Ren. La La eats soapy lumps, her dad stabs typhoon-stranded tourists, her mom’s burnt head shows up in a Froot Loops box—I love them all. There are jam jars with pubic hairs in them, and Ren says we’re all made of slime and beans. Listen: the fried heartache of a country yodel both contains and cooks the gooey yolk of the heart.” –Mike Young at NOO Journal

“La La has agency in a way that Lolita does not. La La can get up on the table & sing. Her imitation (Clone) becomes something new.” –Paula Koneazny at Goodreads

“Slimmest monster” Blurby Award from The California Journal of Poetics.

“[China Cowboy] is provocative, wrenching, and accomplishes that oh so rare feat of both giving me pause and making me want to rush into the next page, of wanting to savor the language while the content leaves my skin crawling.” –Joe Hall at The Container Store

“China Cowboy offers an interesting exploration of identity formation in an era of global capitalism.” — Joshua Ware

“One thing becomes another. . . ” — Jacob Russell at Jacob Russell’s Barking Dog.

“The form is anything but standard. . . ” — Zack Kopp at The Denver Examiner.



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