It was not unexpected, but it remains incredibly sad. Despite myself, I had hoped for news otherwise. I liked Haines. Everyone I knew liked him, and the loss is great, very much so. We all have to feel that now, for in death, it becomes the experience of those alive, their loss, their grief, that is felt. For Haines, the long struggle is over.
Over the weekend, I read 'Wives', one of Haines' last pieces, a large novella that was rightfully well spoken of by a number of people. Set in an Australian outback crumbling to drought, poverty, and a huge gender imbalance, 'Wives' is everything that Haines' body of work had promised: dark, satirical, powerful. It follows a young man, Jimbo, as the cousin he loves moves away, and he and his friends search for a woman and happiness. Haines' Jimbo is at the centre of the piece, a character always on the verge of self conscious realisation of what he is doing, his seething resentment and anger dulling his acknowledgment of his life, from the way he treats women, his future, and the relationships of his family around him. As the story unfolds, Jimbo's anger seeps through the story, and Haines winds him tighter and tighter, leaving him for the moment where he will break, where violence will erupt from him. Yet, even here, at the climax of the story, Haines doesn't relent, and he plays the hand Jimbo has been dealt to the final card.
It is, I think, one of the finest pieces of speculative fiction to come out of Australia in the last decade. Constructed from the mythology of the Australian male, laced with the racial and gender issues that lurk throughout the nation, and a use of Australian slang that is entirely uncommerical and unwanted in today's market, 'Wives' is a triumph, a dark, satirical piece that could very well be called the centre of Paul Haines' body of work.
Man, I am going to miss you, Haines.
I interviewed Haines twice. The first time was in 2005, when I interviewed a lot of Australian authors. Then, Haines was just getting his name, emerging on the scene after the first Clarion in Queensland.
The second time was in 2010. Haines had a second collection out, a third on the way, and he was fighting cancer, even then. I was never real happy with all the interviews I did back in 2005--due to their nature, you never had a chance to get any real depth out of them--and Haines was always more interesting than that short part he got, and so, I asked him if he wanted to have another tilt. I still don't think the interview does him justice, and perhaps this is why I only ever did three.
Paul Haines, 2010.
You can buy Haines' collections, still. In many ways I am talking about his work here because, if you don't know him, then this is all you will know of him now--and it is the work he left behind, what we have to share with those who did not know him.
But if you knew him...
Years ago, Haines tossed me an invite to the private music file share, Oink, about six months before the Police raided the UK, I believe, and shutdown the offices. I always imagined them raiding his house for all his illegal objects and chuckled, while wondering about mine. Of course, what came out of that was the discovery that a large portion of the people using it were musicians. I guess the writers didn't number enough to be noted. We shared a publisher in Prime Books and would swap stories about the experience, though his was much worse than mine. We'd talk about books and music and movies. Occasionally, we'd gossip. Sometimes, I wrote to him about a story I read of his, or he mine, or he asked me to critique something he had written. He would always tell me he appreciated my feedback on his own fiction, because I was 'such a hard taskmaster'.
And I always thought that he didn't need to hear anything I said.