Four American Indian men who were childhood friends from the Blackfeet Nation find themselves in a desperate struggle for their lives against an entity that wants to exact bloody revenge upon them for what they did during an elk hunt ten years earlier.
I'm always giddy when I start a new Stephen Graham Jones novel. Yes, I said giddy. Everything about the worlds, circumstances, characters, and atmospheres he creates appeals to me ... In The Only Good Indians, Jones does that and more, and the more is quite special ... The Only Good Indians is a disturbing horror novel about revenge and sorrow that houses a narrative about identity and the price of breaking away from tradition at its core. And that identity, Native American, isn't monolithic here ... the horror is unlike anything you've read before. It goes from disturbing flashes of thing that may or may not be there to in-your-face explosions of gore and violence tinged with supernatural elements. Jones has a talent for creating unsettling atmospheres and images, but he also enjoys explicit violence ... Besides the creeping horror and gory poetry, The Only Good Indians does a lot in terms of illuminating Native American life from the inside, offering insights into how old traditions and modern living collide in contemporary life ... Jones is one of the best writers working today regardless of genre, and this gritty, heartbreaking novel might just be his best yet.
The anticipation and dread Jones’s stories provoke are amplified in his unique take on the slasher by associations with holidays such as Thanksgiving and Columbus Day, presented with their colonial entanglements so that the arrival of Columbus in 1492 is not seen as an occasion for historical celebration but 'a storm so bad it eats the world.' Yet, whatever form the monstrous takes in Jones’s work, he is a master at creating a storied presence that settles deep into our psyches ... transcends borders and temporal dimensions or, more appropriately, creates its own ... this is what distinguishes Jones’s writing — he eschews the facile answers, clichéd figures, and binary alignments that serve so often as fixed sites of victimry and tragedy. In the complex merging of space, place, and history that Jones activates in his fiction, it is clear that he wants readers to know something of these places and to make them become a part of us, as well ... delivers just the kind of narrative slow burn Jones has become known for, crafting a story whose setting, characters, and sensations evoke a sense of uncanny familiarity ... The storied world that makes up Jones’s haunted West is complex and multilayered, creating a verisimilitude woefully lacking in the romanticized and exotic fables of B-horror and pulp Westerns ... Jones reinforces the context of these details through an intricate layering of motives and historical effects to build a story that highlights the insidious impacts of colonialism. These repercussions are portrayed as both an external force and internalized hegemonic effect, serving as a source of horror and ghoulish tropes ... Sometimes when you read a story the scenes and images are presented so vividly it almost feels like they might fall from the page if the angle of the book tilts too high ... Jones’s unique take on the slasher succeeds in terrifying readers while giving heart to a narrative that will leave readers wondering where history ends and storytelling begins, and maybe even to question whether these narrative forms can ever be cleaved from one another, or should be.
Jones empowers his characters with an affinity for gallows humor that affords opportunities for social commentary as well as relief from the tension. Working in a close third-person narration with second-person seasoning when the Elk Head Woman wants a word, he proves a master of propulsion, his sentences short bursts of power that drive you from page to page. He is a writer who lives up to his acclaim, layering so much history and critique onto a monster movie framework ... The violence is sudden and shocking in terms of the range of victim and manner of their deaths. One of the great beauties of Jones’ craft is his ability to fully realize his characters no matter how briefly they appear on stage. He derives our empathy for his four main leads but especially makes us feel for the collateral deaths caused by their terrible mistake. After hundreds of hours devouring horror stories on the page and screen, you will believe you can safely label the victims and survivors and invest your emotions accordingly, but Jones is fearless about defying expectations. It doesn’t take long to accept that reality and the ride becomes wilder, chilling and sleep depriving once you do ... The project to treat indigenous Americans as subhuman is at the heart of a long series of choices that continue to this day. The Only Good Indians confronts that in its title, and Jones has filled his book with so much humanity that you hope it’s the kind of art that alters perceptions. It takes all kinds of narratives to change the world. Given the times, it makes perfect sense that one should be a horror story.