Saturday, May 16, 2020

THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS :: Stephen Graham Jones

Seeing a deer or horns on a cover is like seeing a horse, I'm instantly drawn and usually can't resist. When I saw the rack on The Only Good Indians, I was instantly intrigued. I've also heard good things about Stephen Graham Jones's work and had wanted to read something of his for some time. Cover gut wins again, because The Only Good Indians knocked my socks off and is my first five-star book of the year. (I don't really rate with stars, but it seems like the easiest way to get the point across that this book kicks ass.)

Lewis is of the Blackfeet Nation, but he's been off the Reservation for a decade, living happily with his white wife. One day while up on a ladder fixing a temperamental light fixture, Lewis thinks he sees a young elk through the blurry spinning blades of the fan, lying on his living room floor. "And Lewis knows for sure she’s dead. He knows because, ten years ago, he was the one who made her that way."

Jones slowly teases the events of ten years ago, though their import is abundantly clear. Lewis and his three best friends broke tribal rules and entered a hunting ground reserved for elders. In a truck no less. The details are spooled out over the course of the book, but they are sufficiently bad to feed Lewis's growing paranoia and belief that the elk has returned for revenge. As he becomes convinced those around him are the elk in disguise, things get bloodier and more horrific. Watching things spiral as the hunted becomes the hunter is a bit magical in Jones's hands. It's just brilliant on so many levels.

The story itself is a gas, and while deeper themes run all through the narrative they are never heavy-handed. Of course there is basketball, because basketball and Reservation are nearly synonymous. I love that Jones's best hoopers are female, as are the best and smartest fighters.

Jones's work is billed as horror and while I get that point, genre labels can be restrictive and keep people away. I usually don't read horror per se, but there is horror that I really enjoy. Please don't let that label keep you away if you don't think you're a horror fan. It is gritty, don't get me wrong. Gird your loins, but dig in.

STREET SENSE: What Entertainment Weekly calls "One of 2020’s buzziest horror novels” should really be billed as "One of 2020's buzziest novels." I didn't know there was buzz when I picked it up. Buzz can be misplaced. In this case it's spot on. And when this is how the author describes himself, how can you resist: "Stephen Graham Jones is a Blackfeet Native American author born and raised in Texas. An NEA Fellow, and Bram Stoker and World Fantasy Award–winning author, Jones is the Ivena Baldwin Professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder. Jones is into werewolves and slashers and zombies. If he could, he would wear pirate shirts and probably carry some kind of sword."

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: The door on Lewis’s side opened like a whisper, like fate, and when he committed his right foot down to the powdery surface that ended up being two feet deep, he just kept falling, his chin stopping a hand’s width into the powder the front tires had churned up. His forward motion never faltered, though. He crawled ahead like a soldier, pulling with his elbows, his rifle held ahead to keep the barrel clear. And—that was when the frenzy washed over him.

COVER NERD SAYS: I picked this by the cover. I have now bought all the rest of SGJ's work. I'd say that was a success. Intriguing, appropriately dark, a little creepy.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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