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The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Published by Gallery/Saga Press on July 14, 2020
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg: 3.73 (as of 2021-12-06)
Holy shit. This was, like, a lot. I can easily see why so many people love Stephen Graham Jones so much, and I can also easily see why his work may not be for everyone. I felt this might have worked better as a novella, as there were a few points where I was like, “…okay, get on with it.” The last lengthy ‘scene’ is one example — while it was incredibly tense, it started to lose that for me the longer it dragged on. But this is a minor qualm, most of the book had me on the edge of my seat in anticipation or terror.
The characters are all flawed in their own ways, but you can’t help but root for them even as you see the damage they’ve caused and the things they’ve done. I’m not very well-versed in Native American culture and SGJ doesn’t hold your hand through the slang and the customs. It takes a little bit of adjustment, but the way he contextualizes everything makes the learning curve an easy one. I also struggled at first with the way SGJ hones in on minor details, but quickly came to appreciate it and the way it informed readers.
The graphic horror is something that I think will lose a lot of people, which is fair. There are a lot of gruesome descriptions of both animals and humans. But the violence doesn’t feel gratuitous to me; it all feels like it has a place, not that it’s just there for shock value (as shocking as it all may be). At times I would have to put the book down for a moment just to breathe because of how impactful some of the depictions can be.
I will say I was also left with some questions and couldn’t pin down some of the ‘rules’ of this entity, although perhaps there are no rules to follow. The timeline just didn’t make sense to me, although I can’t really say more without risking spoilers. While this wasn’t a five star read for me, I do still wholeheartedly recommend it to folks who find themselves interested, but caution that you check out the content warnings and avoid this if graphic animal death is a no-go for you. Stephen Graham Jones is a great writer and I’m really excited to check out more of his novels!