Book: “The Only Good Indians” by Stephen Graham Jones
Publishing Info: Gallery/Saga Press, July 2020
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: The creeping horror of Paul Tremblay meets Tommy Orange’s There There in a dark novel of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.
Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
It wasn’t until recently that I decided to give Stephen Graham Jones a try in terms of looking at a new horror author. I knew that he was a favorite of a friend of mine, and I had requested his book “Mongrels” but never got around to reading it. But when I saw that his newest book, “The Only Good Indians” was available as a ‘Wish For It’ option on NetGalley (aka if you throw your hat in the ring, you may get lucky and get a copy. Kind of a literary lottery for us book reviewers!), I thought why the heck not, and clicked the wish button. To my great (and pleasant) surprise, I was sent an eARC of the book, and waited until it was closer to the publication date to give it a go. It became very clear from the get go of two things: this was going to be quite the experience, and that I had really missed out during my wishy washy ‘I’ll get to him eventually’ malarkey.
“The Only Good Indians” is a horror novel, but it takes great care to go much deeper than merely trying to scare the reader. Along with the tension and scares, we get a deep and heartfelt look into the minds and lives of our main players, all of whom are marked for doom, though the reasons as to why are held close to the vest. Four men, Lewis, Gabriel, Cassidy, and Ricky are four Blackfeet men who were friends in their youth but have vaguely grown apart for various reasons. But the biggest thing that connects them now is a decade old hunting trip that ended with not only the breaking of important traditions. Not only did they hunt on a part of the reservation that was reserved for the elders of the group, they also killed far more elk than they really needed to, including one young female that really, really fought to live. Though they tried to make things right by using as much of the bodies as they could, and giving all the meat to the elders, they were banned from hunting on the reservation ever again. And now, something is hunting them down one by one. It seems like it could be a paint by numbers vengeance folk horror story, but Jones dives in deeper, slowly letting the reader get to know each of these men and the various highs and lows that they reckon with in their day to day lives. By the time vengeance has arrived, you know so much about these men that them being in danger raises the stakes higher than they normally would be. And not only do we get to know them, Jones intermingles their stories along with themes of what modern Indigenous people both on and off the reservation have to contend with, from a loss of identity to a disconnect from traditions to substance abuse to flat out racism. When you take this weaving of social justice issues into a horror motif, what you get is a story that hits you all the more in the gut, but also brings in bits of humor and joy and hope that, if not for these men, that things can slowly be better for those they care about of the younger generations. That is, if this hellbent on revenge and angry entity doesn’t get to them first.
And let’s talk about the horror aspects. Because HELL YES, this is EXACTLY what I want from my folk horror. Jones lets the tension ebb and flow, with slow burning building up and explosive climaxes, and a slow build up again onto the next. It makes the dread feel palpable and makes it so that it’s hard to put the story down. On top of that, the reader really gets into the minds of not only the four hunters, but also that of the thing that is after them. You understand it’s motives, you understand it’s rage, and you can’t help but feel like all of that is justified. It’s easy just to have a monster that slowly takes people out one by one, but far more satisfying to see what makes the monster tick. And with the more subtle and cerebral horror of that we also get some very graphic, gross you out body horror and unsettling imagery that has stuck with me ever since I finished the book. Take all this into account with the social justice issues, and I think that the comparisons between Jones and Jordan Peele are fairly justified. Though that said, Jones stands on his own, no question.
“The Only Good Indians” was a fantastic and emotional horror novel. Don’t make the same mistake I did, people! If you’ve been sleeping on Jones, go out and read this book. You will not regret it.
Rating 9: Haunting, horrifying, and hopeful, “The Only Good Indians” is an examination of revenge, identity, and the circles of violence that can cause such pain.
“The Only Good Indians” is included on the Goodreads lists “2020 Books by Native Authors and Authors of Color”, and “2020 Horror to Scream For”.
Find “The Only Good Indians” at your library using WorldCat!