What I've Been Reading: October 2021October 26, 2021, 10:41 AM Halloween, Horror, Originality, Reading, Review
Stephen Graham Jones's The Only Good Indian has kept popping up, algorithmically recommended to me on Amazon, Goodreads, social media, and you name it. However, anytime I considered it, mixed reviews pushed me in another direction. However, after the book won Horror Writers Association's Bram Stoker Award for best novel earlier this year, I decided I'd give it a try. I, for one, enjoyed the book tremendously.
As far as horror goes, there is something, a spirit, an entity, a creature seeking retribution throughout the novel, haunting several characters. The spirit serves as a monster of sorts, and if one evaluated the book just as a creature horror, or a malicious ghost story, I could see how it might fall short. However, where the book stands out for me is in the incredibly detailed context.
The story takes place among Indigenous American characters. Much of the plot occurs on Indigenous reservations and among Indigenous communities. But even more stunning was the microscope on modern Indigenous identity. In many ways, the story exploits stereotypes in order to call them into question. For example, in an early scene (spoiler), the haunting spirit claims its first victim outside a rural bar. However, the world, and even people who knew the victim, accept it as another case where an "Indian" got beat to death by whites outside a bar. The situation is spoken of as if it were a fact of life or as if he shared the responsibility because he should have known better than to be there.
The book delves further, criticizing how the outside population views and treats Indigenous Americans and how outsiders picture life on a reservation. Yet, it also examines the dynamic inside those communities and how members judge one another, as in the case when one character leaves the reservation to live with a white woman. It becomes clear that living in their own communities is difficult for these people, but leaving means facing stereotypes in the larger world and enduring judgment from the family and friends one leaves behind. It's all very layered and poignant to the problem of what it means today to embrace that identity.
I felt like the conflict with the vengeful spirit also served as an allegory for turning one's back on cultural customs or "the old ways." Characters grapple with this, and ultimately it is by not honoring old traditions that the events were set in motion that unleash the deadly spirit.
The book is character-heavy and is as much about cultural dynamics and interpersonal relationships as a scary story. But to me, it was a thought-provoking journey with a decent eerie story woven in.
If that sounds appealing to you, go check it out.