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.
I listened to the audiobook recording of The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones during the annual Spooktober readathon in October 2021. (Go Team Zombie!) I chose my readathon team specifically because I’d been so curious about this title since it came out and wanted the excuse to finally make time to read it.
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About the Book
The Only Good Indians
by Stephen Graham Jones
Published 14 June 2020
Gallery / Saga Press
Genre: Native American Literature, Paranormal Horror/Thriller
Page Count: 320
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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.
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My Rating: 3.5 Stars
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My honest final rating of this book is 3.5 stars out of 5, but since most review and retail sites only permit half stars, you will see it rounded. I don’t think my gripes bringing it down to 3.5 make it deserve a flat 3, so you’ll see this review rounded to 4 stars in most places other than my blog.
I will start off by saying that I was mad about this title when it first came out, because how dare someone use the first half of such an ugly, hateful racist phrase as their title and how did it pass all the checks in the publishing process? Then someone told me that the author is Native American himself and used the phrase to make a statement. Then I was curious. What could someone possibly write using such a hateful phrase toward their own people that makes the use worth it and make sense? While I definitely see what the author was going for now, and in a horror sense it works ironically, but I still hate the title.
Content Warning: This book contains graphic violence, both toward humans and animals, and also makes reference to all sorts of abuses committed between humans (physical, sexual, etc.) There is drug and alcohol abuse, exposure of the unfair treatment of Native Americans in the USA today, and police brutality.
Many years ago, four young Blackfoot men were poaching whatever they could get when they accidentally shot but didn’t immediately kill a pregnant elk cow. Year later, her spirit seeks vengeance and drives each man to murderous insanity until they’ve all killed one another (and quite a few innocent collaterals in between.)
Based on the book description I was genuinely curious if this was going to be a wendigo story, but it’s so much more horrifyingly unique than that. This spirit takes her sweet time driving her victims to the point of insanity before taking control. Not being a member of the Blackfoot nation myself, I don’t know how much of this monster’s story is based in cultural stories and how much of it is invented, but this is certainly fresh to me as someone who only has personal experience with the culture and traditions of the Coast Salish nations in the Pacific Northwest. It was fascinating, very well written, and absolutely compelled me to keep reading.
The human element of this book and the experience of someone with a traumatic past who feels out of control felt so real, so tangible, and so raw. While I was ultimately horrified by the actions each of the original four poaching party members were lead to take, I never lost empathy for them, and that shows a immense amount of talent on the writer’s part.
My reason for giving it a lower (but still positive) rating is largely the controversial title and the way the unspoken half echoes in the plot and climax of this book. It doesn’t feel like a powerful statement or a reclaiming of a previously negative phrase has happened here, it just feels like a common negative phrase has been used to foreshadow the book’s plot before you even read it in the most uncomfortable way. Legitimately, the title is the difference between a 3.5 and a 4 on my blog. Beyond that, although this is well done as a modern setting type shock value horror, it doesn’t make me personally want to read more from this author or genre. That may mean it just stands extremely well on its own. It may mean I’m not the target demographic for this type of storytelling. I do think it’s worth a read if you like shock value modern horror with an element of mystical mystery, especially if you can set aside feelings about the title.
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