Sometimes when I sit down to collect my thoughts about a story I've just read, to try to get them all in writing, there is so much swirling around upstairs that I hardly know where to start. This only happens with stories that change me in some way. Stories that feel new and unique and alter how my brain interfaces with reality. The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones is one of those stories.
Growing up in Idaho, I was taught the same lie-riddled version of the histories of the regional first nations peoples as every other public school kid in the US. I learned of the Shoshone, and Paiute, and Crow, and Nez Perce, all of these these "mystical" and "ancient" people whom graciously offered their land to white folks—okay, sure, perhaps after a little bit of coaxing—and then sort of conveniently disappeared into the annals of history.
It honestly wasn't until I was a bit older, probably around the time of the US invasion of Iraq, that I had my first sort of "ah-ha" moment about what it looks like when a sovereign people get steamrolled by imperialism. For the first time I really understood what happened on my own continent (well, as much as any privileged descendant of white immigrants who directly reaped the rewards of the imperialism in question can understand). It was genocide. Genocide to the point that the colonizer's great grand children growing up on once-tribal lands a hundred and fifty years later don't even really understand that the people still exist. The Only Good Indians is a blow to the gut that forces the reader to acknowledge how fucked up that is.
And it's a masterpiece.
With this book, Stephen Graham Jones has reached into his own chest and offered the reader his still-beating heart, fresh blood dripping down his wrists. It is not a story for me—I know—but it is a story that has changed me in some fundamental way nevertheless. I could write here about the gripping prose, or the characters that feel so real it's as if you know them in real life. I could rabble on about the skin-crawling sensation of watching their worlds fall apart or the utterly masterful ending. But I won't, because it would take away from the magic.