It was many years ago that I came across the writing of Stephen Graham Jones. It was after the Agatha Christie/Louis L’Amour rampage of my immediate post-college life and at a time when I was starting to crave a return to more literary works. It was a time filled with Don DeLillo, Bret Easton Ellis, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Jean-Paul Satre, and Albert Camus. I wanted something more modern that fit with this post-modern literary tradition.
On a table, highlighting newer authors, at a Borders Booksellers I came across three books, Penny Dreadful by Will Christopher Baer, The Contortionist’s Handbook by Craig Clevenger, and All the Beautiful Sinners by Stephen Graham Jones. I read an enjoyed all three, but the trouble with newer authors is you have to wait for the next book, and somehow after reading everything they’d currently written I’d lost track of them.
Enter 2020. The year that wasn’t. Business is down, it’s confusing and dangerous to attempt to eat out or go to a brewery, movie theaters aren’t opened, and summer concerts never happened. So, what do we do with our free time? Read. In a year in which I sat out to read 52 books I’ve so far read 68. The latest being The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones.
The Only Good Indians resonated with me on a personal level. The second portion of the novel is about a man named Lewis. Lewis is living the typical American life. He has a decent job, a wife, a home, a dog, and friends. Then one day he is working around the house and comes face to face with a past trauma. He becomes haunted by the trauma and slowly loses everything, a lot of it by his own hand. This is an extremely accurate description of trauma.
The other day I was driving in the vicinity of Princess Anne Hospital. The hospital that is home to the NICU where our twin boys were one year ago. I decided that I hadn’t listened to TOOL in awhile and put on their album that came out roughly one year ago, and suddenly I was transported back. All the depression and emotions of having children in the NICU came flooding back. Driving on that street, headed towards the hospital, with the music the same, the scenery outside my car window the same, and the weather the same. I was back in the past. Reliving all those emotions. Feeling all those feelings again. That is how trauma works. It never leaves you, and to others can appear quite silly.
Lewis’ trauma isn’t shared by his friends that were there with him that day. They all experienced the same event but lived it differently and view it in their memories differently. Where Lewis is haunted by trauma Cassidy and Gabe are hunted by the past. Their experience with it isn’t so much of something they carry with them and can’t let go of, but of a wrong that they have committed that is catching up with them.
The book is full of symbolism and excellent writing. It hits the balance point of theme and plot in a way few authors can manage. It tells an engaging story on the surface with enough thematic layers it is a book with revisiting throughout the different stages of life. At this point in my life Lewis’ story resonated with me. Perhaps in another few years an inescapable demon of the past will find me and I will relate more with Gabe or Cas or my children will grow and something I did will come back on them, become an obstacle for them to overcome, and I will be drawn to Den’s story.
The Only Good Indians is a story that can be returned to. The themes will resonate differently at different stages of life. It is also a story of culture and identity. How people that have lost their culture, lived through a genocide, deal with living in occupied territory. A peoples that are shutted away to be forgotten by the modern world. The Only Good Indians is a novel that fits in perfectly in a college curriculum and living room bookshelf alike. It is a book with a strong plot and deep themes; both of personal and cultural significance. It is a novel that I highly recommend.