The Only Good Indians is an amazing meditation on the circle of violence and the cost of revenge.
Stephen Graham Jones is no stranger to anyone if you are a fan of horror or genre fiction. He has been writing for a long time and has consistently been improving. SGJ is a lifelong lover of horror films and books and it shows. Over the years his skills as a writer have evolved. From brilliant short stories like “Father, Son, Holy Rabbit,” to his coming of age novel Mongrels, SGJ has done it all. Well, that is until The Only Good Indians. If you only read one horror novel this year, which you should not, there are tons of superb horror novels. BUT, if you only read one, make it The Only Good Indians. Because this book is a masterpiece in every sense of the word.
The Only Good Indians is one of those books that is best experienced blind. Let SGJ guide you through his themes and his characters. But, if you are curious for what the book is about, it focuses on a group of Blackfoot Native Americans who many years ago went elk hunting, and during this trip something horrible happened. Now in present day, each member of the tribe who was part of that hunting trip is being killed one by one. Whoever or whatever is hunting them wants not to kill them but also their families. The plot is reminiscent of Ghost Story by Peter Straub; however, even if you have read that book, you will find this one to be fresh and original. There were moments of this book that had me yelling out loud, grasping my kindle, even wanting to throw it across the room. This is a powerful, horrific, and emotional journey. If you are a fan of horror, this book is a must read, buy the hardcover, buy the kindle edition, borrow it from the library, we don’t care how you read it, get this book inside your eyeballs.
There are two things about The Only Good Indians that stand out. This book tackles some heavy topics, but the two that really struck a chord with me dealt with what I will call the circle of violence. The way the past haunts these characters, how the past comes to life, how nobody can escape the repercussions of violent acts that they have committed really struck home for me, especially in these current times. Some characters regret the past, other characters have tried to move on, but they can never escape the past. The accident, the hunting trip, it haunts them; it follows them, they can never escape it. In the eyes of the victims, they can never find redemption, despite how hard they try. I found this to be a powerful and emotional choice made by Jones.
Another aspect of this novel that hits home are how Native Americans are seen and treated. Both how they treat each other, and how society views them. Just as the characters in this novel cannot escape the horrible violent past of their actions, they cannot escape their skin or their history. They wear it. It is everywhere. They are seen. They are judged. They are attacked. The land they live on is stolen. Their history and their culture are being erased. They try to live peaceful lives, and end up succumbing to alcoholism or drug addiction. Not all the characters mind you, but each of them has their own problems. Be it, Lewis who left the reservation and married a white woman, to Richard who gets involved in a bar altercation in the prologue. Each of these characters are fully developed and well realized. As a reader, you feel their pain; you feel their fears, and you feel their deaths.
All in all, this book is SGJ’s masterpiece. Full stop. I can go on and on about how he handles the tension, the suspense. Everything about this book is fully realized, and each word is perfectly placed. SGJ is a master of the genre and we here at Signal Horizon cannot wait to see what he has up his sleeve next. If you only read one horror novel this year, make it The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones.