{Book Review/Interview} The Only Good Indians: Stephen Graham Jones

The Only Good Indians: Stephen Graham Jones

Signed Limited Hardcover Edition:

  • Limited to only 400 signed and hand-numbered copies
  • Personally signed by Stephen Graham Jones on a specially designed full-colour illustrated signature page
  • Larger 6.14” x 9.21” trim size
  • Printed on a heavier 100gsm acid-free paper
  • Bound in premium cloth with coloured head and tail bands
  • Hot foil stamping on the front boards and spine
  • Offset printed and bound with full-colour endpapers
  • Sewn binding for increased durability
  • Stunning dust jacket artwork and interior illustrations by Francesco Giani
  • Including extra bonus material not published in other editions

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The Only Good Indians: Stephen Graham Jones

Reviewed By Steve Stred

Stephen Graham Jones has been on my list of ‘authors I need to read but haven’t yet’ for some time. ‘Mongrels’ is frequently recommended to me and with my love of Lycanthrope books, I should’ve read it by now, but just haven’t.

With ‘The Only Good Indians,’ I was excited for it for a number of reasons. 

Growing up in the middle of nowhere there were two things that were always present – hunting and CBC. My Grandfather had a trap line for many years and when logging wasn’t paying for all of the bills, the trap line would cover the difference by selling the pelts to local traders and companies. As well, hunting played a big role by stocking the freezers and when it got too cold to be outside or even to drive the half-hour into the nearest town, we would have food. My Grandfather and my Dad always told me that you used all of the animal and what you couldn’t use, you gave back to the land as a thank you.

The CBC was a godsend. We didn’t get satellite access until I was almost in High School, which meant for almost a decade we had three channels. CBC, CTV and The Knowledge Network. CBC gave me shows like ‘The Raccoons,’ ‘On the Road Again’ and ‘Hockey Night in Canada.’ But my favorite show was ‘North of 60.’ A drama about life in the far North in Canada in a small Native town. 

These two components came back in full force with ‘The Only Good Indians.’

What I liked: This was a fantastic blend of indigenous mythology and real-world issues. We follow along as four men hunt some Elk in an area where they are not allowed to enter. When a specific Elk is brought down, a spirit begins to take its revenge on the group.

Jones did a fantastic job of creating palpable tension while infusing the narrative with social issues. It made me uncomfortable a number of times, as racial and stereotypical moments arrive and Jones did such a great job of digging in during those times. This is a book to make you stop and think, to question each scenario as it happens.

The hunting scene and revisits were just fantastic. An Elk is one of the scariest animals out in the wild. Having both hunted them but also seen them rush and attack an unsuspecting person, they are an animal that brings immediate dread to many people who know just what they can do. Jones walked that line of letting us know just how vicious they can be, but also how protective and nurturing they are.

Throughout, basketball plays a predominant role. It is the light or the beacon for some of the characters. Their way out of their situation. As I mentioned earlier, ‘North of 60’ was a show I watched frequently and that theme of ‘trying to get out’ was a running plot point. I use that show as my own reference point to this story because, while it is a commonly known issue for many Indigenous people, it is an issue frequently swept under the rug in most fiction and cinema releases. I found a connection with the use of sports, though, to try and get out. While I am a white Canadian, where I grew up, there was a built-in mentality of ‘this was as good as it gets.’ To be born and raised there, then live there for the rest of time. To work in forestry or tourism and that was it. I latched onto sports as my way out. I didn’t drink or party once I turned 16. It was a strange time, but it let me get it, even if it did alienate me from many of my former friends.  Jones weaved that narrative in time and time again and it really allowed the characters to jump off of the page.

What I didn’t like: Similar to another book I read recently, I found the basketball scenes sometimes felt like it went on a bit longer early on. The scene near the end was absolutely necessary, but at the beginning, I didn’t connect as much with it.

Additionally, there are some fantastically shocking deaths early on. Unexpected. I wished there would’ve been a way to have them happen later on so that it would’ve delivered even more of a gut punch.

Lastly – as I mentioned, I am a white Canadian. I am male and at the time of writing this, 38. This made it a bit odd to laugh at some of the humor Jones peppered throughout. Don’t get me wrong, the banter and character relationships were fantastic, but it’s an odd thing to laugh along with Indigenous-specific humor at times. I may very well be messing up what I’m trying to say here, but I hope whoever is reading this understands what I’m trying to say!

Why you should buy it: Stephen Graham Jones has crafted a creepy, slow burn that grew under my skin like a grub. The story kept growing and wiggling away as I read it and at times you can feel Jones put his foot on the gas, only to pull it back off and then ramp it up again. I’m so happy to finally have read Jones and I’ll be definitely looking to dive into ‘Mongrels’ soon. For people who see this book all over social media and on ‘must read’ lists published – there’s a reason it’s here. It’s damn good.

The Kendall Reviews Post Review Interview

Steve Stred & Stephen Graham Jones

SS: As you said in the afterword of ‘The Only Good Indians,’ the story came from a few myths and legends from various Indigenous groups. When you were growing up was there a story you were told that scared you or kept you awake?

SGJ: Yeah, there was one story from my childhood that lodged deep, kind of festered, changed my behavior. I was . . . I don’t know, maybe five, six, living with my grandmother, and her sons, my uncles, were still in high school, and one of them told me that old campfire story about the guy looking for his golden arm. Evidently he would walk the halls of my grandmother’s house—there was one sort-of hall—and rub his hands on the wall, moaning about where was his arm. That terrified me, kept me up so many nights, made me hug the walls of that house anytime I happened to be alone in the hall. But, later, living in this house we bought because the guy building it went bust a little bit into building it—the house was framing and tarpaper, pretty much—what scared me then was that the sloping room under the stairs, like, under the close-to-the-ground stairs, hadn’t been sheetrocked in yet, and I crawled back there one day, found a magazine. On the cover was this guy with a wrong head and wrong-colored eyes. The magazine was old, so the cover was all faded out, but that just made this guy scarier. I caught a lot of black widows and got some candles and made a circle of fire and spiders around him, to keep him under there, and then left that magazine there when the sheetrock came. So I guess it’s still there, maybe. Years later, I saw the guy again, on television. It was Max Headroom. Dude still unsettles me.

SS: Parts of ‘The Only Good Indians’ really reminded me of the Cree story ‘The Revenge of the Mountain Goat.’ Growing up my Grandfather told us that story but would always change the animal depending on the situation. So, it might be about a bear or wolf. When you adapt a story or infuse a story with sprinkles of myths and legends do you find you need to walk a fine line between disrespecting the original version?

SGJ: Probably? But I know I tend to walk all over lines, never step carefully, so, for The Only Good Indians, it’s all just made up. My goal with it, if anything, was to have Jason, instead of taking Manhattan, try to carve across the reservation, but run into a final girl he maybe wasn’t expecting.

SS: I recently read an anthology called ‘Taaqtumi’ which featured Indigenous authors and horror stories from where they grew up. If there was one piece of advice you could give to an Indigenous author starting out, what would it be?

SGJ: To duck all the questions from the world about your culture, as that signals the audience that you’ll be answering more questions on that, and pretty soon you’re having to be an expert on all things Indian, instead of just some writer who likes to put words together in funny ways.

SS: Basketball plays a predominant role in ‘The Only Good Indians.’ Are you a basketball fan? If so, what is your Dream Team? If not, what was the reason behind deciding on that sport being the sport? Location?

SGJ: Basketball, yeah. Coach used to tell me in high school that I should try to get decent grades, as I couldn’t eat basketballs. But I never listened. I just played and played and played. And, now, my knees and ankles are trash, so what I do is I let my characters play sometimes, when there’s space and time and reason on the page. As for my dream team . . . Tracy McGrady, Sean Kemp, Kobe Bryant, and then a couple of solid role-players. I think if you build a team only of show-offs and standouts, then it becomes a battle of who’s going to score, so nobody does. And? I really prefer Kobe and McGrady to play each other, but oh well. Oh, wait, I know. One more. My favorite player the last few years, and I’m so thrilled he’s finally finding a place that recognizes his talent, is Zack LaVine. He moves so effortlessly, and has such a fast, pretty shot, and can rise up from about anywhere, flush it through.

SS: ‘Mongrels’ seems to be THE Stephen Graham Jones book every one recognizes your name from. Shockingly, it’s only been four years since its release, even though it has a ‘classic book’ feeling to it. Does it only feel like four years ago for yourself? Does the book still make you smile when you think about it?

SGJ: I’ll forever be living in Mongrels, for sure. It’s my life, I mean. Growing up, we’d always toss all our bags of junk in the back of some truck and head out for the next place. All I did in Mongrels was make us werewolves.

The Only Good Indians

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

You can preorder The Only Good Indians from SST Publications

Don’t forget to you the Kendall Reviews Exclusive 12% discount code KendallReviewsTOGI12

Stephen Graham Jones

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, four This is Horror Awards; and has been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the World Fantasy Award. He is the Ivena Baldwin Professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder.

You can follow Stephen on Twitter @SGJ72

To find out more about Stephen please visit his official website www.demontheory.net

Steve Stred

Steve Stred is the author of a number of novels, novellas and collections. He has appeared in anthologies with some of Horror’s heaviest hitters.

He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with his wife, son and their dog OJ.

You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevestred

You can follow Steve on Instagram @stevestred

You can visit Steve’s Official website here

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