The Only Good Indians

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“One of 2020’s buzziest horror novels.” —Entertainment Weekly

“More than I could have asked for in a novel.”—Tommy Orange, Pulitzer Prize finalist author of There There

“What Stephen Graham Jones does for me, is create new possibilities for Indigenous storymakers.” —Terese Marie Mailhot, New York Times bestselling author

A masterpiece. ” —Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World

A tale of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

This reading group guide for The Only Good Indians includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Four American Indian men from the Blackfeet Nation, who were childhood friends, find themselves in a desperate struggle for their lives against an entity that wants to exact revenge upon them for what they did during an elk hunt ten years earlier. Not just them, either, but their families and friends.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. The story opens with a dark and pessimistic headline that rings true by the end of the prologue. What do you think of Ricky’s prediction? Do you believe what he saw that night or was it a figment of his imagination? Could he have changed the outcome?

2. Lewis is haunted by one afternoon of hunting with his friends, instead of all the other hunts he’s been a part of. What about that hunting trip was unique? Do you understand how it was a violation?

3. Lewis believes he is being pursued by the spirit of the young mother elk he killed. How does his recent string of bad luck chip away at his sanity? Discuss the combination of factors that push him over the edge. Would these circumstances have driven you insane?

4. Lewis convinces himself that Elk Head Woman has infiltrated his life first as Shaney, then as Peta. What convinced him each time? Did you expect him to kill them both? If so, at what point did you realize he would go that far?

5. As the story unfolds, it seems less and less likely that Ricky and Lewis were imagining that an elk was after them. What did you believe was happening at this point in the narrative?

6. Discuss reading the chapters as told through the Elk’s voice. Why do you think the author chose to include this point of view? What fresh insight does it provide? How did it change your understanding of the first few chapters?

7. Having already heard Lewis’s account of that night ten years ago, how does hearing the Elk’s version of events change your perspective? Does it make the revenge justified?

8. We’ve had little access into the world Lewis and Ricky left until the novel moves to Blackfeet Nation. Discuss what you learn about the reservation from Gabe and Cassidy.

9. As the story progresses, the chapters continue to be told from the perspective of a pivotal character but with one significant difference: moments from the Elk’s perspective are now interspersed. Discuss this narrative choice. How does it affect your view on the unfolding events?

10. On page 156, Gabe mentions emptying his dad’s freezer of the last bit of elk meat from their hunt ten years ago and feeding it to the dogs. How does this moment tie into what is happening now? How does it foreshadow what is to come?

11. Describe Denorah. Discuss how she ties into what is happening with Elk Head Woman and why she is involved in what happened ten years ago.

12. As the three embark on the sweat, they reveal more about life as a Blackfeet, both past and present. Discuss the challenges they face and their differing methods of dealing with them. What, if anything, was surprising or unexpected about their experiences and their conversation during the sweat?

13. When Elk Head Woman sets her plan in motion, things unravel quickly for Cassidy and Gabe. She has no remorse for anyone who gets caught in the crossfire. Discuss how everything from one angle implodes, but from her standpoint goes like clockwork. Do you think this level of violence is warranted? Is this revenge or overkill?

14. Denorah and Elk Head Woman go toe-to-toe on the basketball court long before the true game begins. Why does Elk Head Woman draw this out? Imagine you are in Denorah’s shoes. Could you run, fight, and endure for as long as she does?

15. Denorah brings the saga full circle in the end. How does she influence the outcome? How do her actions compare to the choices her father made? What is the relationship with her parents? The day’s events have a significant ripple effect in the tribe. Why is Denorah’s story passed on?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Stories, lessons, and legends are passed down from one generation to the next. Discuss the theme of generational knowledge and how it is an undercurrent for each character and influences their decisions. How has the history you’ve inherited influenced your life? How does it influence these characters’?

2. Everything that happens throughout the novel is possible only because, on some level, the characters believe that it is. Did their culture and upbringing influence that? Discuss what you believe about spirits, the afterlife, and what is possible or impossible. How easy or difficult was it for you to suspend your disbelief?

3. Early on, we learn the full meaning behind the title: The Only Good Indians. Discuss the meaning behind this insult and the author’s choice to use it as the title. Does it give power to the saying or does it take it away? Discuss its significance in the context of this novel, as well as in the world you live in.
Gary Isaacs

Stephen Graham Jones has been an NEA fellowship recipient, has won the Jesse Jones Award for Best Work of Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters, the Independent Publishers Award for Multicultural Fiction, a Bram Stoker Award, four This is Horror Awards; and has been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the World Fantasy Award. He is the Ivena Baldwin Professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder.

More books from this author: Stephen Graham Jones