The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 21. Published by Simon & Schuster (audiobook)

Other Possible Prompts: 1. A second-person narrative, 5. Chapters have titles, 33. A bilingual character, 37. Set in a rural area, 41. Involves a second chance, 50. A person of color as the main character

This book was decidedly not my brand of weird. Luckily, it’s all going to be worth it because it helps fill my second-person narrative spot, which I thought for sure would be a tough one.

Ten years ago, four friends (Ricky, Lewis, Gabe, and Cass) completed what they refer to as the “Thanksgiving Classic”: the week before Thanksgiving, they did unspeakable horror in a hunting accident on their Blackfoot reservation. Haunted by their actions, their guilt hunts them down one by one.

While this book is no doubt disturbing, the story didn’t really do it for me. While I can’t ruin the event of the Thanksgiving Classic for you, what spurred the nightmare that unfolds in this book is not quite the line-crosser that I was expecting. While horrible, it was truthfully an accident that just spiraled out of control. I think Jones was relying on the cultural significance of their actions bearing down heavier on the meaning. Maybe I’m completely jaded or just plain missing the point, but the horror of this doesn’t reverberate and stick with me. I certainly don’t see how it haunted Lewis, whose storyline is my favorite throughout the book.

Lewis’ story lasts for about half the novel, and seems like a slow descent into madness, until it’s a very fast descent into madness. This is the part that felt truly like horror to me and that I really enjoyed. He was a man tortured, and his own feelings of guilt added the level of depth the story needed to be truly scary. In contrast, the latter half of the book gets even weirder, but Gabe and Cass do not feel the same levels of guilt over the Thanksgiving Classic, and it changes the narrative. Instead, they are more focused on their heritage, honoring their culture, and the Thanksgiving Classic does not fit into the narrative of those things. It’s a different feeling altogether.

I got kind of lost at times because of the shifting focus of the narration and the fast pace of the novel. I had to keep rereading as I lost energy and got bogged down in all the details. I think under different circumstances, a different subject matter, it may not have lost me. And I certainly don’t mean the “Indian” piece of it – I actually thought the cultural aspect of this was very interesting; the inner monologue regarding their cultural feelings of guilt or worry about addiction, heritage, etc. are all very enticing parts of the novel, which make the focal point a lot stronger – but it’s actually that focal point that bored me to begin with.

Honestly, the talent potential is here though. Like, this definitely didn’t turn me off to Jones’ writing in general. I still plan to read My Heart is a Chainsaw this year. He does write with a haunting air, this story just wasn’t the one for me. It’s a very particular brand of horror that I simply do not subscribe to. It was weird, it was freaky, but it wasn’t for me.

Not for me. Maybe for you? This is definitely an issue of personal preference and more a subjective than objective dislike and review of this story.

Have a great week. 🙂

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