Thank you to Netgalley and Gallery Books for providing this ARC. The Only Good Indians is out 19th May this year.
J’s Verdict – ☆☆☆☆
THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS, the latest novel by author Stephen Graham Jones, is that rare novel that comes along once in a while and feels like a blast of fresh, crisp cool air for the genre.
Reading it, I likened it to an A24 Horror Film – an independent psychological horror with a fresh perspective, a different idea, an exciting approach to horror and above all. One that shatters my expectations and takes me, a seasoned horror fan, for a ride.
The story goes like this: Four American Indian men from the Blackfeet Nation find their quiet lives disrupted when something from their past comes back to haunt them. Something relating to what these friends did ten years ago.
Beyond the unique perspective that the setting and characters lend to the story, beyond the central engaging mystery of what these characters did, there’s a darkness to The Only Good Indians. One that builds slowly. Like a pot set to boil, it crackles and spits in increasing intensity the more you turn the page. There’s something disquieting at work, something bleak behind the curtain. You can feel that in its opening prologue and you can feel it in the beginning chapters. It only increases this pressure as the novel unwinds.
This tension, this disquieting dread, explodes here or there in fits of gore, as nasty and horrific as any Stephen King or Jack Ketchum novel, as seemingly excessive as an Evil Dead Movie, before dropping back to a more slow and foreboding pace. The end result, for me, was that I was caught off guard. I thought I had the novel figured out but I was often wrong. Which is a nice feeling.
It’s not just all horror though, there’s a tenderness to the setting, themes and characters at work here. It’s powerful, tender and emotional. So emotional that, as a reader, you can understand both sides to the story being told here. I liked that a lot about this novel – how there’s a destructive force at play but also an underlying beauty. It makes for a multi-layered horror. One that lingers.
Stephen Graham Jones’ writing takes the style of the stream of consciousness, flowing like a lucid nightmare. Since we’re with the characters every thought, we’re also with their mind when they think reality is shifting and cracking, when their world starts to unravel.
The writing feels effortless, powerful (Where has this man been all my life? I’ll need to dive into his work) and there’s a dreamlike feel that seeps into Jones’ passages. He has an eye for detail, he sets the stage in a way that feels cinematic.
The most interesting aspect of this novel is that it could’ve been a conventional genre piece from start to finish – and that could’ve still been an enjoyable treat – but the novel went beyond my expectations, telling a larger story with a bigger scope. One where you could peel back the layers of these characters and disappear into these worlds.
There are some parts – sections, developments – that feel a little too fast paced for me. I must admit I’m conflicted with this aspect because while it does move at a break neck pace, some developments felt a little rushed to get to a major point. It doesn’t detract from overall enjoyment, I just feel certain aspects – without being too spoilery – could’ve been developed a bit more to draw every bit of tension out.
As it is though, THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS brought me back to a time and place where I was a young horror fan and looking for something unlike anything I had seen previously. It’s a feverish nightmare, a thrilling psychological horror and the first horror novel in a long while that left me with its images long after evening came for me.
If you’re a fan of Clive Barker, Lucky McKee, Stephen King or even David Lynch, I think you’ll be as pleasantly entertained and surprised as I was with this novel.