The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

“The land claims what you leave behind.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 279 pages.
Read from November 10, 2020 to November 16, 2020.

This book was the first book I read as part of a book club that I recently joined and let me tell you, it is so great to be a part of a real and live person book club again. To hang around fellow book nerds, consume copious amounts of beer, and talk about books that you may never have come across otherwise. It really is the best.

This book is the start of an emergence of a new genre of books that is a horror-based fiction that is set within Native American folklore and tales. The story blends the whimsical nature of the oral stories from the Native tradition with a classic slasher and psychological horror feel, that also becomes a modern social commentary on Native Americans today.

Set in a small town in the modern-day United States, four Native American men share an experience from their youth that has begun to come back to haunt them. They broke sacred hunting rules and now, ten years after the event, an elk entity is hellbent on revenge for the lives that they should not have taken. The opening death scene of one of the men sets the horrifying precedence of the book in terms of horror as well as the enduring racism and cultural and identity struggles that they all face. As the story progresses, you get to hear the voice of this entity and the stories intertwined with it, especially as it continues to successfully exact its vengeance.

I’ll admit, I didn’t enjoy this book after initially finishing it. It has an amazing concept and presence but I found the writing style really jostling. Its approach was just not for me. As the book draws nearer to the end, the story becomes very strange, and at times, hard to follow as you become more intertwined in the narrative of the entity. This style of writing made a lot of sections of this book a slog and hard to get through. When I first finished this story, I gave it a 2-star rating but after I had my book club meeting I changed my rating to 3 stars as the book created such amazing discussions, even though many of my fellow book club members struggled with this book like I did, we all came to appreciate the depth of this book after discussing it. This book is meant to make you uncomfortable. It’s supposed to make you feel as helpless as the characters in the story as you acknowledge the physical horror that occurs but also the social horrors that they face and that many Native Americans still face.

Would I read this book again? No, but I’m glad that it exists and that I read it. I would love to read more books that are similar to this one that intertwines the Native American experience with horror. There is actually a Netflix movie called “Hold the Dark” that reminded me a lot of this book as it follows a similar pretence.