Book review: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Again – a NetGalley ARC review. I stumbled across Stephen Graham Jones’s short story collection After The People Lights Have Gone Off several years ago in a secondhand bookshop, and ever since then I’ve always kept half an eye out for books by him. So I jumped on the chance to review this, and will be buying a copy. Five stars, of course.*

*Reviews on this site will also be four or five stars, because I’m not a dick or a professional reviewer, and I see no need to share reviews of the books I didn’t love. Just seems mean to do that.

The blurb

‘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.’

My review

togi*I, stupidly, waited until access to my copy of The Only Good Indians expired before actually writing up this review, so please excuse the lack of specific reference to character names! Events kept vague to avoid spoilers*

I loved this book, though had to read it slowly, to take in the events – to handle reading some of them. I’m not a fan of the term ‘literary horror’ (because I honestly think good horror is, by default, literary), but I think The Only Good Indians is as fine an example of it as you’ll read. It creeps, is thoughtful – makes the reader examine societal stratas, prejudice, rituals, respect and understanding of one’s past – all while layering terror on horror, with some great action sequences to boot. Jones can draw a scene as clearly as if you’re watching it in a film, with added smells, taste, textures – which is great until you reach the particularly gory moments (when I, for one, had to step away and take a little break!).
Jones treads that fine narrative line of making you wonder: is the protagonist haunted, or is he mentally ill? Are we, the reader, being drawn into his guilty delusions? There’s a switch up of POV part way through that answers many of those questions – and I rather suspect that might be the Marmite moment where other readers (having skimmed other reviews) find themselves shaken loose. I fell on the side of loving it – rage, tenderness, revenge, history, present day thoughts, despair and hope all weave together throughout the plot – which has depth. TOGI made me think hard about the world, but it took me there not by smacking me over the head with social commentary at the detriment of the plot, but by leading me gently, sometimes reluctantly, through shadows and memories, past blood and family. It’s quite beautifully, and horribly, done.

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