The Only Good Indians: Book Review
Vengeance takes on a new form in Stephen Jones’s horror novel The Only Good Indians. In this novel, four friends commit a heinous crime against nature and are now being haunted by a vengeful elk spirit who is set on each of them paying the ultimate price. This haunting is nothing like the typical horrors we see in this mainstream genre. There are no demons or haunted houses, no possessed mothers or creepy children lurking in dark corners in search of a life stolen. No, this fear is solely derived from facing the consequences of violating nature in such a senseless way; the hunted has now become the hunter.
In American horror, spiritual hauntings are usually identified as two kinds of entities: demonic or human. Since this novel is being written from the perspective of a Blackfeet Native, the haunting comes from an entity that is not commonly respected in American culture, the elk. American culture of loving animals is mostly conditioned on animals providing love and comfort as pets or food. Very rarely do we look at animals as spiritual beings that can hold space outside of their connections with us. However, they can feel love, fear, and even anger, which is why having an elk come back in spirit form for vengeance is such a powerful and important perspective to have.
This story is so enticing because the continuing discussion is not about death at all; it is about life, the quality of life, and who deserves to have a meaningful experience within it. Unfortunately, all four friends decided that the elk’s life was not important enough to not cross such a sacred line. And because that decision was made with such recklessness, we see the lives of each character fall into that same reckless nature that ends up tarnishing the quality of not just their own lives but those closest to them. We especially see this with Gabriel and his daughter.
“…she’d caught a ride out here to collect before her loser-dad could spend what he owed. Before he could let it blow across the snow. Only Cassidy shot her with a 7.62mm round before she could even announce herself, had shot her so clean that it hadn’t even thrown her back into the lodge, had just blown a ragged plug of meat out behind her.
But she’s not meat, she’s my daughter, Gabriel says inside, screams inside, can’t stop screaming about inside. Exactly, you say to him.” (Jones, P. 238–239)
At this point in the story, everything comes full circle as we are forced to equate Gabriel’s loss with the loss the elk had experienced. The reader must define the difference between being meat and being a daughter. Are those differences only reserved for humans? And if so, what other spiritual beings might haunt us for our atrocities?
It’s so exciting to see horror become diversified in literature without the lens of the white gaze. Even though I don’t read horror often, I can’t wait to explore this genre even more in the future.
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