Slice Of Life – Book Review
- By Paul Haines
- Published By The Mayne Press.
I’ll be honest: I’ve been avoiding this review. Not because the book isn’t good. Quite the contrary, in fact. It’s rather too good. It’s a collection of short stories; mostly horror, a little SF, a little fantasy, but all of it brazenly, uniquely Paul Haines.
And there’s the problem, you see. I don’t know Haines up-close-and-personal, but in the close-knit world of Australian speculative fiction, it’s hard to be a stranger from your fellow writers. Truth is, what I know of Paul I quite like. He’s got a wicked sense of humour, cool tastes in music, a sharp mind, we share some very good friends, and he’s touchingly devoted to his family. He is, in fact, a Nice Guy.
At least, that’s the way it seems. But reading “Slice Of Life”, it’s completely impossible to reconcile the man I know of with the sly, savage, creepy, salacious sociopath who must have written this book. And that is very bloody disturbing.
It’s all in the tricks, of course. Haines frequently writes in first person, and uses his own name for the protagonist. “Spot Of Liver”, the story that ends the book, is one such. The Haines we get here is urbane, articulate, an oenophile with a fine palate, and something of a gourmand. He is also a cannibal, a relentless sociopath who is accompanied by what is either a seriously deranged hallucination, or an alien from a race intent on invading Earth with Haines’ help, and the son of a mother who appears to be considerably more horrible than this (hopefully fictional) Haines.
Tricks. Writing a version of himself into the narrative, Haines takes advantage of easy vernacular, deep point-of-view and effortless characterisation to make the Haines-on-paper horribly, skin-crawlingly believable. It’s like sitting next to an affable bloke on the train, talking about the weather and then having him suddenly, easily, frankly reveal himself as a neo-nazi who thinks Hitler didn’t go far enough, a man who wants to offer frank details of how the Jews and the niggers and the slants should be disembowelled and fed to their own cats…
Tricks, maybe. But the effects are fucking unnerving. The ‘Haines’ stories include some of the best and creepiest in the book: ‘Slice Of Life’ itself of course, but more subtly, ‘The Devil In Mr Pussy’ which Haines acknowledges to contain rather a lot of autobiographic material.
This is Haines the writer doing what he does best: fucking with your expectations. Speaking frankly and casually of masturbation and deviant sexual desires. Turning a slightly off-beat incident in a cut-rate tour of Outer Pakistan into a tense, fraught fable of morality, terror and terrorism. Greeting you with an affable smile and a friendly wave while the knife slides under your jawbone and his cock slides up your arse as you fade into bewildered death.
These are Not Nice Stories. But they are very, very good. I’m not a horror fan. I find most of it contrived, repetitive and predictable. From time to time, the best writers can produce something that keeps my attention: King, Bloch, a handful of others. But none of them have ever put together a collection of stories like this. Slice Of Life made me feel dirty, somehow complicit as I read it. It turned me into a grinning voyeur, a kind of drooling hillbilly sidekick to the demented psychopath making Ned Beatty squeal like a pig. I wanted a long shower when it was done, and quite honestly, I doubt I’ll ever be completely relaxed in Paul Haines’ company again.
Favourites? I don’t think that’s the right word. But I loved ‘Necromancing The Bones’, and what it does to conventional fantasy. The characters are solid, real, believable and altogether horrible ˆ and the story itself is a riot of depraved sex, murder, and vilely funny comedy of a shade much deeper than black. Haines’ introduction tells me there are at least two more stories around these characters. I must find them and read them.
Overall, this is a remarkable book by a writer whose deceptively clean and easy style masks real depth, and the kind of truthfulness that makes his version of horror visceral, nasty, and yet as fearsomely compelling as the sight of a shrouded corpse beside a wrecked car on the verge of the road. This is really strong work, and if you like horror, or dark speculative fiction, you owe it to yourself to get a copy.
Just don’t blame me if you feel the need to go to confession afterwards.
- Buy the book here: http://www.themaynepress.com/books.php?isbn=9780980615906
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