SF: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

I’ve been saying for a while that we need more stories that fall into the overlap between country noir and speculative fiction.  The hollers and dark dirt roads that host country noir yarns have their own rich tradition of myths and folk tales.  And speculative elements, perhaps especially horror, dovetail well with the bones of a country noir story—better than, certainly, romance or even mystery.  In his novel The Only Good Indians, Stephen Graham Jones combines supernatural horror and rez noir (a kissing cousin to country noir).  Four young Blackfeet Indians committed some great sin on an elk hunt years ago, and an angry spirit of sorts is looking for bloody restitution.

Those four Indians[1] are Ricky Boss Ribs, Lewis Clark, Cassidy Sees Elk (Cass), and Gabriel Cross Guns (Gabe).  The pivotal hunt happens when they are on the cusp of manhood, the story itself is staggered out later, with the full details of the hunt disclosed along the way.  The story proceeds in five parts: a prologue of sorts that results in the death of one of the four, a section ending with the death of another, a longer section taking up much of the book featuring the final two and a more distinct version of the vengeful spirit, and a bonus section of sorts.  Two sections are off rez, the rest on.

There is no reason the rez noir and supernatural horror elements can’t work together.  Heck, they ought to feed off of each other.  And I did find the rez noir elements to be very good.  The supernatural horror, on the other hand, I thought was just okay.  The original sin that set the events of the story into motion just wasn’t awful enough to get me fully invested.  And the angry spirit didn’t produce quite enough tension or scares for the story to fully work as horror.  (Admittedly, I am a tough customer when it comes to horror.)  None of it was bad, mind you, and the rez noir elements remain very good, but they don’t cohere as strongly as they could when the horror elements lashing them together don’t work.

4 of 5 Stars.

[1] Others on the rez prefer different nomenclature, but these four stick with the term they grew up with. Besides, they have bigger problems than labels, even without a vengeful spirit stalking them.

2 thoughts on “SF: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

  1. Pingback: Second Quarter 2022 Quarter-in-Review | Every Day Should Be Tuesday

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