Title: The Only Good Indians
Author: Stephen Graham Jones
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Publication date: July 14, 2020
Length: 310 pages
A tale 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.
Best friends Ricky, Lewis, Cassidy, and Gabe grew up together on a Blackfeet reservation. Then, in their 20s, they went their separate ways, after an even they refer to as the Thanksgiving Classic. One week before Thanksgiving, the friends went hunting in forbidden territory and illegally brought down many elk, before getting caught by the game warden and being forced to throw away all the meat they’d claimed as their prize.
Now, ten years later, strange events begin to occur. First, Ricky is killed in what the newspapers call a bar fight, but it’s much more involved than that. Next, Lewis appears to have a mental breakdown, in which he seems to be hallucinating visions of an elk in his living room and experiencing violent episodes that he may or may not be responsible for.
Up to this point, I wasn’t sure whether the characters were actually having supernatural experiences or if Lewis in particular was having some sort of psychotic break. But, it soon becomes clear that this is not all in their minds. Cassidy and Gabe are also soon the victim of a vengeful spirit coming back to punish the men for their part in slaughtering a vulnerable member of the herd.
The Only Good Indians is both a terrifying horror tale and a sad, straightforward look into the lives of Native Americans on their reservation as well as the lives of those who leave. (I can hear Gabe laughing right now — to him, “Native American” is an affectation of the younger generation. He considers himself Indian.)
It’s really questionable whether any of these men deserve what happens, and there are certainly some innocent victims as well — although to the elk spirit, I suppose none of the two-leggeds who hunt the herds are actually innocent. We get inside the spirit’s head as well as the main characters, and it’s all quite sad and disturbing.
One of the best characters in the book, in my opinion, is Gabe’s daughter Denorah, a middle school basketball star who takes over for the final section of the book, and is pretty astounding with her skill and courage.
I don’t feel like I’m capturing how powerful this book is, yet I don’t want to disclose too many details. The writing is evocative, sometime funny, and the characters are sharp, well-drawn, and memorable. Be warned that there are some very violent and gruesome aspects to the story, so if you shy away from books with blood and guts, this might not be a good choice for you.
Tammy at Books, Bones & Buffy wrote one of the best reviews of this book that I’ve seen, and I think she says it all better than I do! Check out her review (here), which is what convinced me that I needed to read this book.
I’m so glad my library hold finally came through! I’ll definitely want to read more by this talented author.
I never considered elk scary before… but I’ll never look at them the same way again.
For more, check out this NPR interview with the author:
Visit the author’s website at https://www.demontheory.net/