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Colin Winnette

Colin Winnette is the author of Fondly and two previous books: Revelation and Animal Collection. He lives in San Francisco.


"Funny, brutal and haunting, Haints Stay takes the traditional Western, turns it inside out, eviscerates it, skins it, and then wears it as a duster. This is the kind of book that would make Zane Grey not only roll over in his grave but rise undead from the ground with both barrels blazing."

– Brian Evenson

"I loved it. Loved it! Haints Stay had me from the very first line—the visceral ante upped and crescendoing nearly every page. Humor, gore, that wonderful unsettling feel you get when you're reading a book that excites you and kind of scares you as well? Yes, please."

– Lindsay Hunter

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Haints Stay

Haints Stay Is A Solid, Layered Work of Genre-defying Beauty


"Left to their own devices, people will live out every pos­sible variation of a human life." -- from Colin Winnette's Haints Stay

Every possible variation. The unexpectedness of Colin Winnette's fiction is nothing less than thrilling; so much so that I fear writing this review will steal this thrill from you. Haints Stay is a western; this is the first surprise I must apologize for ruining. And as westerns go, there's quite a lot of shooting and choking and . . . well . . . gnawing, but this will come as no surprise to you if you've read Winnette's prize-winning Coyote and the two novellas collected in Fondly. Exploring the instinct to kill has always been there in Winnette's stories. Haints Stay begins with Sugar and Brooke, two carnivorous killers wandering towards civilization, but I see these two characters as a sort of parental unit to the main story—which belongs, in my opinion, to the character of Bird, a naked boy dropped out of nowhere into the care of killers.

Haints Stay is a solid, layered work of genre-defying beauty—albeit a bit of a gory one at times; there is that. The overall work is circular like an absurdist play, returning to the same towns, the same camps, the same crime scenes; but also the same characters and their similar pursuits: killing, avenging, slaughtering. There is the exception of Mary, Bird's fake wife, who hates killing and hates spiders, which is one of the funniest parts of this book by the way. As always in Winnette's fiction, "horridness and dread" are tempered with razor-sharp wit and purpose.

We're let in on this purpose by the character of Brooke. As he's wandering through the desert, he muses that there has been a lot of middle in the tales of his killing but not much beginning or end. And that's exactly how the tales wind through Haints Stay, edges "worn and indistinguishable". This doesn't stop him, though, from expecting things to end in total devastation; and more often than not, in this narrative, they do. True to this purpose, it is actually Bird's story that has no beginning and no end but lots of middle.

Bird—as his name suggests—is a grotesque programmed to kill, but also to seek safety and food. His character, along with all of Winnette's creations, is original and meticulously drawn, mostly through dialogue. Winnette's dialogue uses repetition and stark, simple phrasing to reduce the characters' motivations to instinctual impulses: "I want to kill it." "Are we safe?" These phrases, and others like them, are guiding refrains in this story.

The most frequent refrain is Bird's line that he's going to be ready for anything that comes at him. That's what his known life—his time with Sugar and Brooke and his not-so-pleasant time in the cave (which I'll let you discover yourself)—has taught him: to be ready for anything that comes at him. "'Lots of things are going to come at you,' said Mary. 'It is only the world saying hello.'" But Bird, who's been crippled by the world, doesn't really see it this way. The world sometimes—often really—wants to hurt you. And most of what comes at you is not what it seems.

In fact, the characters in Haints Stay are often not what or who they seem: complete strangers who pass as husband and wife and who later live more like brother and sister, children who aren't really their parents' children. Relationships come and go and seem to mean something for the moment but then morph, become meaningless after the next violent act. As important as these false relationships are to this narrative, an emotionless lack of self-awareness is even more central. The best example of this is Bird, who simply appears with no knowledge of who he is or where he came from, but there's also Mary, another child with no past; there's Sugar, who doesn't even know his own gender. These are simple-minded creatures occupied with the satisfaction of their most basic needs.

Like food, water, and safety. The bands of marauders, wagon trains and ranch families spend most of their narratives worrying about where their next meal will come from, whether it's safe to eat or drink. But there is also music; there is Martha, Bird's fake mother and Brooke's fake wife. Her piano playing serves as a placeholder for the sublime: for the feminine, for the civilizing of the lost and violent masculine—masculinized?—soul.

Most of the characters in this story are lost souls—as the title of the book suggests—in between towns, in the wilderness, wandering. Migrating? Like migratory birds? Wild animals? Herds? Creatures who are most dangerous when they happen upon oases of civilization? I think I could remove all these question marks, but I'm still trying not to ruin the surprises in this brilliant work of art.

And speaking of art, there's a touch of surrealism in this story. I want to leave you with the conceit of a seemingly pointless, freestanding spiral staircase with an eagle sculpture at its base—a bird; the association is unavoidable. It's in the middle of the town where Bird finds work as a killer. Does it lead to the higher calling that Martha pities the birds for not having? Or is it merely another metaphor for a life leading nowhere? A path of no certain origin and no apparent destination. But lots of middle.

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