Book Review: ‘The Only Good Indians’ is a Cautionary Tale Filled with Haunting Folklore – Horror Geek Life

‘The Only Good Indians’ by Stephen Graham — Published by Jones Gallery / Saga Press

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I had never read anything by Stephen Graham Jones, and with the new release of The Only Good Indians, some horror book enthusiast friends of mine suggested it would be a good place to start. Being sold on the synopsis from Goodreads, along with my love for the weaving of horror through cultural folklore, I picked up the book from my local bookstore and shifted it to the front of my reading list for the year. I’m glad I did, as Jones has may have made the shift to near the top of my horror writer rankings.

The Only Good Indians follows four Blackfeet Native Americans, trying their best to live their lives normally after taking part in an unsettling event that would go on to haunt them both mentally and physically. There seems to be no escaping a vengeful force born of the cultural traditions and rules they set aside long ago.

I mean it – I’m a real sucker for the folklore stuff, from classic Norse Mythology (or even Neil Gaiman’s re-telling) all the way to background plot devices like Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. However, there is always this added layer of authenticity when the stories are written and told by someone of that culture. Stephen Graham Jones is Blackfeet Native American, and gives us great insight on the lives, loves, issues, and traditions of these people. The dialogue in this book feels like real conversation. I felt like I was getting a glimpse into the true struggle between honoring expected tradition and moving along with pressures of the modern world’s way of living. Jones’ personal experiences fuel the storytelling with real moments discussing cultural importance behind the tales and morals. The writing pulled me in immediately and the pacing was perfect. It is of absolutely no surprise to me that Jones is a recipient of the Bram Stoker Award.

When I read horror, I typically like a little heavier character development. I grew up reading Stephen King, Richard Matheson, and Anne Rice, who all excel in their character creation and description. When I read more modern horror writers, it’s hard for me not to ding them when the development isn’t up to par with those writers. That isn’t necessarily as much the writer’s fault as it is mine for not widening my expectations. I would have liked to see more development with the characters of these books, but as I finished, I was reminded that I found myself constantly teetering back and forth between feeling apathetic and empathetic for the characters. Jones forced me to weigh the pros and cons of their lives, testing me on why I should feel one way or the other.; making me do the development, and I am here for it. The other realization after finishing was that the book really wasn’t about the characters, but like most folklore, about the delivery of the storytelling and the moral of the story. You could have switched these four main characters out with 100 different people living 100 different lives, and the impact and result of the story would have felt the same to me, the reader. The small details in our lives pale in comparison the big, important choices we make. Those are the choices that haunt us ten years later.

I know I’ve gushed about the storytelling thus far, but I want to make it clear this is a horror novel. There are plenty of unsettling and intense moments to go around. Jones has a fantastic way of describing not only a spooky or gory event, but selling the moment even further by describing the characters’ realistic reactions to it. There’s such a vast difference between a writer having a character experience something and simply run away as opposed to having a character experience something and subsequently not be able to breathe, have a thousand thoughts at once, and then run away with blurred vision from tears and dizziness of the brain. It’s more realistic, and we all know what it’s like to feel truly terrified.

Jones caps the story off with a beautiful ending intertwined with a lesson, once again following one of the most important steps of sharing folk tales. I put the book down feeling exhausted (in a good way) from the craziness throughout and completely satisfied by the conclusion. I felt like I had been sitting across the fire from Jones as he told me this story himself, making me consider the choices I’ve made and contemplate the ones I will make. He was warning me that taking the wrong road may come back to bite me.

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