Release Date: July 14, 2020
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
“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.”
Everyone has sung the praises of Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians, and for good reason. It’s superb in every way. I’ve written before about how incredible Jones is at crafting bone-chilling horror out of everyday circumstances and with flawed yet fascinating characters. The story is centered around four Blackfeet men, Lewis, Gabe, Cass, and Ricky. As young men, they made a reckless choice to hunt elk on a forbidden patch of land on their reservation. Years later, the violence they unleashed on the herd of elk comes back to them in the form of an elk spirit eventually given the name Elk Head Woman. One by one she picks them – and anyone unlucky enough to be near them as she extracts her vengeance – off.
Filling in the spaces between the scenes of gruesome horror are wells of social commentary. Jones digs into colonialism, racism, interracial relationships, and the challenges of marriage and parenting when you’ve had few good examples of either and even fewer opportunities to learn or try. We hear about extermination campaigns, life on and off the reservation, the balance of maintaining ancient traditions with the current culture, and the struggle to understand, live with, and break down the colonial mindsets and frameworks that overlay Western society.
I listened to the audiobook version and let me tell you it was a terrible idea to listen to it while driving alone late at night on a largely empty and pitch black winding mountain road through a national park. The scare factor jumped significantly. At one point during the final confrontation with Elk Head Woman, I passed a deer on the side of the road and literally actually seriously screamed out loud.
Speaking of the audiobook, my only complaint is about Shaun Taylor-Corbett, the narrator, specifically that he was not very good at doing the different voices. Taylor-Corbett has a great voice, but all the characters sounded almost exactly the same. Didn’t matter if he was voicing men in their 30s and 40s, a teen girl, a teen boy, or Elk Head Woman herself, they were difficult to differentiate if the text didn’t state who was speaking to whom. Otherwise, like I said, I enjoyed his narration. Taylor-Corbett is particularly good at catching Jones’ dry sarcasm and the little moments that seem offhanded but cut deeply.
I don’t read a lot of horror, but when I do, Stephen Graham Jones is at the top of the list. Treat yourself to something frighteningly good during these long, dark, cold nights.
Buy it at Bookshop.org (affiliate link)