The Only Good Indians - Stephen Graham Jones - Book Review ★★★★★

Hell hath no fury like a woman with an elk's head out for revenge.

It’s been 10 years since the fateful day when four friends got together and in a spirit of recklessness or sheer abandonment did something awful. Now, they have been marked. One by one they are targeted by a vengeful spirit - someone they never expected would come back for revenge.

It’s present-day for us, but for these four friends who grew up on an Indian reservation, it’s just another shitty day in their shitty lives. The story gives us a panoramic view of places civilized society doesn’t know about or care about.

A brief intro to the first of the four friends, and a quick but tragic death before we are even done getting to know him.

Then an intro to the second friend - the only one who seems to have escaped from the cycle of perpetual nothingness to make something of himself. Nothing too glamorous - but he has a legit job at the post office and a wife with whom he’s building a nest egg. He’s saddened to hear about the death of his friend, who was mob lynched for a crime he didn’t commit - but this is something only the reader knows. And then things get strange around his house. A vision on the ground, a shadow on the wall - is it a genuine haunting, or is it just his guilty mind? Should an incident from 10 years ago - one committed with youthful negligence - be allowed to weigh on one’s mind so heavily after all these years.

Then the story focus on the last two friends - who are initiating a teenager into the ways of their tribe after a friendly request from their local sheriff - a smoke bath in a tent while it’s snowing outside. A small pebble is thrown into the pond by the vengeful spirit, and then she watches gleefully from the shadows as a small misunderstanding between the friends blows out of proportion and leads them to attack each other’s body and mind.

And then there is the last target the spirit wants payback from. Someone - who wasn’t even there at the events that happened 10 years ago on that fateful day. An eye for an eye.

I only have two issues with this book, but they are not major detractors to the story. Firstly, the novel narrative is in slang so it takes quite some time to get used to it. And secondly, in the third act, it is hard to believe a supernatural entity would be able to speak modern slang and pretend to be a normal person for an extended period of time to its intended victim. It’s very distracting.

A very straight forward horror thriller but it manages to infuse purple prose and says quite a lot more than the unfolding horror.

In this book, Stephen Graham Jones has touched upon ancient rivalries, the fate of the defenseless in Indian society, the divide between the older and younger generations, and the repercussions of crimes committed ages ago that are still plaguing them all. The book has done an excellent job of conveying to us that Indians living on reservations have a long way to go as they integrate with the outside world.

Jones has walked the fine line of entertaining horror and thought-provoking literature successfully, almost to a fault. The writing is immersive and moody, with a fair bit of purple prose - almost literary - and quite a lot of symbolism. But the horror is the best kind - proving that the decimation of the mind is more powerful than being attacked by a killing machine. After all, it has prompted a well-liked person in the book to do things they wouldn’t even have dreamed they were capable of.

Overall - a fast-paced atmospheric novel - one you’ll not want to keep down, droopy eyes and late-night notwithstanding.