Title: The Only Good Indians
Author: Stephen Graham Jones
Release Date: July 14, 2020
Genres: Horror, Native American, POC, Diverse, Supernatural
Star Rating: 5/5
Disclosures: I bought this book of my own accord.
How many sides are there to the truth, really?
As an estranged group of Native friends find themselves alone in sanity-rending situations, that question arises again and again. In The Only Good Indians, everyone struggles to get a look at the objective truth for long; the task is made nearly impossible by the dubious veracity of stories and perception from the past, whites, and the people around them. It’s a clever subversion of the Rashomon style of storytelling, which normally has multiple characters describing one point in time: the cast of characters have sections from their point of view, as the inciting factor of this story moves itself steadily forward, showing just enough of itself to create confusion and a feeling of impending doom. Each protagonist is truthful about their past deeds and their beliefs, though they’re obviously biased—it’s the world and others around them that the reader can’t trust.
The less you know about this book going in, the better. Jones captures the frenetic thought patterns and twisting logic of its characters with grace and quietly building dread, which can only be cheapened by knowing too much. However, it’s never so esoteric or confusing to turn a reader off; for every little bit of evidence that doesn’t add up, there’s a dozen insights to be drawn from the interactions between its characters, the worldly anxieties that plague them even when they’re in mortal danger, and the way each one has learned to cope with the thousand little cuts that come with growing up on a reservation.
In terms of genre, there’s a subtype of horror for anyone to like in this: The quiet, creeping kind when things aren’t just right. The heart-wrenching, emotional class when something is never able to be undone. The gaslighting, trembling-hand type of horror when you can’t trust your own senses anymore. The existential dread of everything in your world falling apart, while the days still go by as usual for everyone else. And, lastly, the sort that makes you feel glad that you’re safe, reading in your cozy spot, with all of your skin and bones just where they’re supposed to be.
I rarely would describe a book as perfect, but I really can’t think of anything that could improve upon this title. I would recommend this to anyone who loves horror, but especially anyone who cares about diverse voices in literature, the connections between fellow humans, and a perfect mix of hope and tragedy.
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Content warnings: gore, violence, racism, xenophobia, drug addiction.
Reviews of horror, nonfiction, and other genres from a life-long lover of books.