The last book I finished in 2021 didn’t quite make it under the wire for my year-end blog post. It was the second Stephen Graham Jones novel I read in the year. I guess I’ve been reading a lot of American Indian books lately. The Only Good Indians is a horror story and more. There’s reconciliation. There’s tradition. There’s hope. As part of the privileged “white” class, I’m always a little afraid that writers from oppressed cultures will take it out on me. It may’ve happened here, but if so it was done in a way that I didn’t feel the sting. This is a story of friendship, mistakes made, and a monster who has a righteous cause. There’s a lot going on here.
One of the persistent cultural fears of the unwoke, I suspect, is that there’ll be payback if all things were to become equal. Perhaps on the scale of karma that’s true, but in reality the people that’ve been oppressed simply want the oppression to stop. To be recognized and acknowledged as being human. As if that decision is up to white folk to make. This novel simply deals with American Indian life as it’s lived. The characters all pretty much live in poverty but they lack the greed so many white protagonists have. They’re happy if they have a few hundred dollars, or even a few twenties. Life is more than playing the capitalist game. It really all comes down to relationships. And family.
Stephen Graham Jones writes with a deft hand. He offers some humor amid scenes of violence and loss. He speaks plainly and without pretense. And there are parts of this novel that are genuinely scary. Since I had no idea how it might end, I wasn’t even sure even while I was on the last page.
The best monsters are those that teach us to be better human beings. Quite often they teach us that the truly monstrous ones are those who look and act like people usually look and act. We take the natural world, assuming it’s ours. We think our small problems are those of the entire world. Monsters help to fix our perceptions. Without them we carry on as if it’s business as usual. This is a good novel to read in the midst of a pandemic. There’s hope here that we’ll come out of the crisis better than we went in. Perhaps scarred and changed for good. In every sense of the word.