THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS
By Stephen Graham Jones
Published by Gallery / Saga Press
Here’s a novel I’ve heard about countlessly over the last three to six months. Having missed out on the craze surrounding the other recent Jones book, Mongrels – a title I have since picked up, but not yet read – I was hoping to board this train in time for its public release. Though I’m a couple weeks late, The Only Good Indians is still a fresh pick on the shelves, at least.
This is my first time reading Jones, though I’ve been hearing about him a lot since joining the online community of book readers/reviewers. Now that I’ve got a taste for him, I’ll say he reminds me a lot of Paul Tremblay. His writing has a very personal narration to it, like you’re following the rapid thoughts of the characters in focus. It’s generally quick, messy, and a bit twitchy. This style works well in suspense, so the horror sequences here were very powerful. However, for those in between scenes – like all that basketball playing – it caused my mind to slip away from the page. But we will circle back to that momentarily.
In this novel, you have four childhood friends that have done something cruel during a hunting trip in their youth. Now, years later, an entity comes seeking revenge on them. It’s not only an exciting idea, it’s made uniquely special by Jones’s use of Native American characters and traditions. I especially liked Lewis’s story (and conclusion) in all this, even if Gabe and Cass were the ones featured in a haunting massacre that claims a handful of lives. Lewis was the character you found yourself attached to with relative ease. You cared about him and his life, his anxiety and fears, his mounting suspicion and obsession over the Elk Head Woman. And for this reason, his part of the book was the best.
When things go dark in The Only Good Indians, they go really dark. Jones kills his characters off with blissful and violent ease – I loved it. And the ending fit just right. So why am I not giving this a higher score? For one, all the basketball bored me. I enjoy playing sports, but not reading or watching them. Maybe 15% or more of this book consisted of basketball games and warm-ups. I just didn’t care. I also found scenes outside of the horrific action unable to hold my attention, and part of that was due to the writing style. With the way some things were explained – often in run-on narrations – I found myself confused more than once, having to then reread paragraphs to figure out what I missed. If I lost focus for even a second (whether it was because he was talking basketball or something else I wasn’t connecting with for whatever reason), it seemed like I would lose complete understanding of the thread. Readers with attention deficit disorders (like myself) may struggle like I did, as a result of this writing style. It’s not to say Jones did something wrong – it’s just that his word slinging can be challenging at times to follow.
It was because I found myself somewhat frequently daydreaming during this title that I landed on the score of 3.5 – I recognize how great a story this is and how freakishly dark it can get, but I also have to acknowledge the trouble I had with it off and on. Nevertheless, with The Only Good Indians, I have discovered for myself the expertise and imagination of SGJ; and in reflection, I will look forward to reading more from him.
Review by Aiden Merchant