Listen. This horror novel has been out for two years now, so I’m just going to go ahead and start with a spoiler.
The monster is an elk.
If you’re like me and your initial response to that is to lean back and say “pfffft, LAME!”, then you should also read this book and enjoy a near-sleepless night speed-running the last 50 pages because you’re hoping to get the horror out of your head with the inevitable happy ending.
Whether or not that happy ending ever comes is up for debate, as is if that happy ending is even possible. When four young Blackfoot men go hunting in a restricted area, they’re not expecting the supernatural consequences of their actions to hunt them through adulthood. Still, it does, and they stumble through life poorly, never realizing that their selfishness and reactivity keep them from being the good guys they think they are. Their community–coworkers, girlfriends, local rez officials, an estranged daughter who’s had to have her dad banned from her basketball games–all clearly know and are disappointed in them, but they keep trying to maintain relationships and getting hurt. When vengeance comes, as horrible as it is, it’s hard not to feel as though our main characters don’t all deserve it to some extent. But the people around them suffer too, and that’s where the truest horror in this book lies.
Stephen Graham Jones pulls off a tricky thing in this book. He writes about some of the worst and scariest bits of a community without demonizing it or dehumanizing the perpetrators. The fallout from the bloody revenge delivered to the hunters hurts the women in their lives most. In the real world, indigenous women experience violence at horrifyingly high rates. Knowing that made parts of this book hard to read. But the violence never feels gratuitous or gleeful.
Instead, it feels like a reckoning, not only within the story but with what makes violence against Native women so distressingly likely in reality. This book is about revenge, it’s about grief, and it’s about grimly holding men accountable even while acknowledging that systems can marginalize them as well.
It also manages to have a whole chapter that’s nothing but a basketball game but isn’t boring at all.
Five stars and proper hunting permissions to The Only Good Indians
(Fellow readers, this book is scary scary. If you want to read it or other diverse horror books, check out this booklist in the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Don’t forget–this blog has an affiliate relationship with Bookshop so anything you buy from a link on this site will earn us a commission. Hope you’ve had a great holiday, if you celebrate, beautiful people. Now–go read something good! Peace!)
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