Book Review: Stephen Graham Jones’s The Only Good Indians

“When the whole world hurts, you bite it, don’t you?”

Stephen Graham Jones
Cover of The Only Good Indians

Stephen Graham Jones has been a favorite of mine for quite some time, and his latest novel, The Only Good Indians is no exception.

If you are familiar with Jones, you probably know his writing as alternating moments of beauty and brutality. This is the case in Jones’s latest novel, the story of a group of young Indians who hunt the wrong elk in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In its bones, this is a classical ghost story, and readers expecting immediate horrific gratification are going to be disappointed. The beginning of the novel is the sort of slow, tense burn that the genre had been built upon. The brutality comes later, as a climax to the is it/isn’t it build up of the early chapters.

The book has a lot to say about being a Native American in the modern world. The mythical/spiritual aspects here are fascinating, as they both weave themselves into the modern world and butt up against it. That conflict drives the book thematically. There is a tenuous sense of hope that things might get better, but a cynicism there that waits for everything to go wrong once again. Everything here has consequences, and they can follow characters like a shadow through the years. This goes beyond whatever it is that may stalk them to the little choices and curses that have haunted them.

We all pay for our transgressions in some way, and in The Only Good Indians, transgressions manifest themselves in brutal ways. Sometimes, it seems like there may be a way beyond them. Maybe all we have is the legacy we leave behind for others to remember in hopes that they will sit around a fire and tell our stories, and that they will tell just as many of the good ones as the bad.

“Some lights you never figure out, and shouldn’t even try to.”

Stephen Graham Jones

Rating 5/5