Halloween Countdown: The Writing of Stephen Graham Jones

pumpkin, book art

It was a lapse when I ordered the audio version of Stephen Graham Jones’s The Only Good Indians, brilliantly narrated by Shaun Taylor-Corbett. If I’d known in advance it was considered a horror novel, I probably wouldn’t have listened to it. Boy, would I ever have missed something spectacular.

A crime sets the plot in motion. It’s the kind of irresponsible daredevilry four young male buddies are prone to. As a big snowstorm starts four days before Thanksgiving, Ricky, Lewis, Cass, and Gabe decide they need to put some of their own game on the holiday table. They take their hunt to the portion of the Blackfeet reservation set aside for the elders.

Down below a cliff, they find a herd of elk. They shoot into the herd, killing far more animals than they can drag uphill and far more than their truck can hold. Doesn’t matter. At the top of the cliff, the game warden waits. One of the animals Lewis shot was a young doe. When he begins to field-dress her, he discovers she isn’t dead, and she is pregnant. Her calf is alive inside her, and several more shots are required to finally kill her.

Ten years have passed since the hunt Gabe calls the Thanksgiving Classic. Ricky is working a temporary job with a North Dakota drilling crew. One night, outside a bar, he encounters a herd of elk in the parking lot. The animals panic and, in running away, do considerable damage to the parked trucks. Shrieking vehicle alarms send the bar patrons stumbling outside. They see a Native, jump to the wrong conclusion, and chase and kill Ricky. “Indian Man Killed in Dispute Outside Bar.” From the viewpoint of Lewis, Cass, and Gabe, Ricky’s death is totally predictable.

For quite a time, you could legitimately think of the elk sightings by Ricky and the half-mad Lewis as hallucinations, possibly brought on by (in one case) alcohol and (in the other) guilt. The situations are strange and terrible, but not totally outside the realm of logical explanation—metaphorical, not metaphysical. That changes. But by then, you’re all in.

Having liked this book so much, I listened to another of Jones’s: My Heart is a Chainsaw (a Bram Stoker Award winner). Teenage Jade Daniels is a loner, half-white, half-Native, shunned by her peers and effectively abandoned by her parents. Her life has one bright spot—an obsession with something even worse than her own situation, slasher movies. Her knowledge of that genre is encyclopedic. Now, I’ve never watched any of those films, so no doubt a lot went over my head, but there was never a point where I was at all confused. Jade sees around her the clues that a massive slasher event is going to occur in their rural town, but, following a core tenet of slasher films, The Adults Don’t Believe Her. I came to admire and love Jade with her woefully unappreciated big heart and lightning brain. Another great narration of the audio version by Cara Gee.

Further Reading:
What Horror Can Teach Us” by Kelsey Allagood

One thought on “Halloween Countdown: The Writing of Stephen Graham Jones

  1. Great double review. The experience of listening to someone’s cadence is different than reading ourselves and alters our experience. The right narrator can enhance the experience, as, apparently, happened with these for you. For me it was Emily Lloyd- Jones’ excellent The Bone Houses and Stephen King’s Fairy Tale as well as The Stand.
    As always, thanks for your sound and reasonable observations.

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