I bought this book on the basis of reviews that described it as a “masterpiece”. I’m not sure I agree with that, but it was certainly a dark, disturbing read that I really enjoyed.
The title is a tragically ironic reference to Theodore Roosevelt’s vile quote “the only good Indians are dead Indians”, and the book is heavy with the prejudice, discrimination, and disadvantage that people of American Indian heritage struggle with on a daily basis in the present-day United States.
The Only Good Indians tells the story of four young American Indian men who massacre a herd of elk. 10 years later they are being stalked by the spirit of one of the animals they killed. The book effectively combines classic horror and suspense with an astute social commentary.
What I liked.
The plot was gripping. It was laden with tension interspersed with abrupt and shocking episodes of bloody violence that you always knew was coming but could never quite predict where and when and to whom.
It was skilfully written – prolonged descriptions of the characters normal lives and backstories were so heavy with suspense that I couldn’t read quick enough for fear of what was going to happen next.
While the supernatural elements were unusual, some might say farfetched, I bought into them one hundred percent. For me, the spirit that hunted the men was merciless and bone chillingly terrifying. I know I will be haunted for some time by the disturbing visual image of the unnatural stalker that the author so vividly creates.
But, as frightened as I was by that spirit, because I understood its motives and its quest, I could not help but feel a strong sense of sorrow and compassion towards it. It was that that evoked a strong emotional response to the book overall. In a sense the “victims” were also the perpetrators, creating a lot of conflict for the reader.
What I didn’t like.
The Only Good Indians was not an easy read. The writing style and the language was hard to understand and required a high level of concentration. I often had to re-read paragraphs or sentences to work out what was going on. Many of the American colloquial references will be lost on an international audience.
I found the lengthy basketball scenes especially challenging and have to admit skimming through some of them.
Overall, a great read that I’d definitely recommend.