Stephen Graham Jones
Hardcover (also available as an e-book, an audiobook, and on audio CD), 978-1-9821-3830-1, 320 pgs., $26.99
July 14, 2020
In this quirky, entertaining, hair-raising novel, Midland, Texas, native Stephen Graham Jones shows why he’s a master of horror fiction that quietly sneaks up on you first and then relentlessly makes you run for your life, screaming for help.
Jones himself is scarily prolific. Still in his forties, he already has penned and published at least twenty-two books (fiction and poetry). He also has won numerous writing awards, including the Texas Institute of Letters 2005 Jesse Jones Award for Best Work of Fiction, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and a Bram Stoker Award.
The Only Good Indians is a haunting, frightening revenge tale built from a mind-bending blend of many things: Jones’s own Blackfeet Indian heritage; basketball; old trucks; oil drilling; social commentary; elk hunting; contemporary reservation life in Montana; addictions; the Blackfeet’s’ complex religious beliefs regarding animals, nature and the sun; and what can happen when you’ve done something wrong in your past and try to drift away from your culture and traditions.
Jones tells his new tale with a dark humor that at times melds into sudden shock. The book’s initial focus is on four young Blackfeet men who intend to go elk hunting, and how the author describes them offers a telling example of his unconventional style:
“Off-rez, people always used to default-think that him [Gabe] and Lewis were brothers. Gabe, at six-two, was always a touch taller, but otherwise, yeah, sure. In John Wayne’s day, him and Gabe would have been scooped up to die in a hail of gunfire, would have been Indians ‘16’ and ‘17’ of forty. Cass, though? Cass would have been more the sitting-in-front-of-the-lodge type, the made-for-the-twentieth-century type, maybe even already wearing some early version of John Lennon shades. Ricky, he’d be Bluto from Popeye, just darker; put him in front of a camera, and all he could hope to play would be the Indian thug off to the side, that nobody trusts to remember even half a line.”
Both predictably and unpredictably, things go wildly awry for the quartet. But the book’s unexpected resolution rolls out at a pace worthy of a high-dollar Hollywood action-thriller.
Now an English professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, Jones received his bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech, his master’s from the University of North Texas, and his PhD from Florida State University. Along with horror fiction, Jones’s novels and short story collections have included experimental fiction, crime fiction, and science fiction. In 2014, the Los Angeles Times said Jones “may be the best prolific writer you haven’t heard of yet.” In that article, Jones told the newspaper that about the only genre he hasn’t tried yet is romance. He said he might even try writing a romantic comedy soon.
The Only Good Indians definitely is not that book. Stephen Graham Jones’s fans likely will be pleased that he has, once again, not gone off the reservation in his fiction. Meanwhile, readers seeking off-beat, unnerving tales should consider checking out this inventive writing voice.
Stephen Graham Jones has been an NEA fellowship recipient; has won the Jesse Jones Award for Best Work of Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters, the Independent Publishers Award for Multicultural Fiction, a Bram Stoker Award, and four This is Horror Awards; and has been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the World Fantasy Award. A Texas native, he is the Ivena Baldwin Professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder.