Could Stephen Graham Jones be the Jordan Peele of horror literature? This exclusive first look at his next novel indicates he just might be.
A Blackfeet Native American author born and raised in Texas, Jones is best known for his award-winning books Mongrels and Mapping the Interior. But it’s his next book that is poised to vault him into a new tier: The Only Good Indians, which balances horrific drama with sharp social commentary. The novel follows four American Indian men from the Blackfeet Nation who were childhood friends, as they 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 10 years earlier by killing them, their families, and friends.
EW has a preview of the book in the form of a haunting cover reveal, which you can see at the top of this post, and a first excerpt, which you can read below. The Only Good Indians publishes April 7, 2020, and is available for pre-order.
Excerpt from The Only Good Indians, by Stephen Graham Jones
The headline for Richard Boss Ribs would be INDIAN MAN KILLED IN DISPUTE OUTSIDE BAR.
That’s one way to say it.
Ricky had hired on with a drilling crew over in North Dakota. Because he was the only Indian, he was Chief. Because he was new and probably temporary, he was always the one getting sent down to guide the chain. Each time he came back with all his fingers he would flash thumbs-up all around the platform to show how he was lucky, how none of this was ever going to touch him.
Ricky Boss Ribs.
He’d split from the reservation all at once, when his little brother Cheeto had overdosed in someone’s living room, the television, Ricky was told, tuned to that camera that just looks down on the IGA parking lot all the time. That was the part Ricky couldn’t stop cycling through his head: that’s the channel only the serious-old of the elders watched. It was just a running reminder how shit the reservation was, how boring, how nothing. And his little brother didn’t even watch normal television much, couldn’t sit still for it, would have been reading comic books if anything.
Instead of shuffling around the wake and standing out at the family plot up behind East Glacier, everybody parked on the logging road behind it so they’d have to come right up to the graves to turn their cars around, Ricky ran away to North Dakota. His plan was Minneapolis—he knew some cats there—but then halfway there the oil crew had been hiring, and said they liked Indians because of their built-in cold resistance. It meant they might not slip off in winter.
Ricky, sitting in the orange doghouse trailer for that interview, had nodded yeah, Blackfeet didn’t care about the cold, and no, he wouldn’t leave them short-handed in the middle of a week. What he didn’t say was that you don’t get cold resistant because your jackets suck, you just stop complaining about it after a while, because complaining doesn’t make you any warmer. He also didn’t say that, first paycheck, he was gone to Minneapolis, bye.
The foreman interviewing him had been thick and wind-burned and sort of blond, with a beard like a brillo pad. When he’d reached across the table to shake Ricky’s hand and look him in the eye while he did it, the modern world had fallen away for a long blink and the two of them were standing in a canvas tent, the foreman in a cavalry jacket, and Ricky already had designs on that jacket’s brass buttons, wasn’t thinking at all of the paper on the table between them that he’d just made his mark on.
This had been happening more and more to him the last few months. Ever since hunting went bad last winter and right up through the interview to now, not even stopping for Cheeto dying on that couch.
Cheeto hadn’t been his born name, but he had freckles and orange hair, so it wasn’t a name he could shake, either.
Ricky wondered how the funeral had gone. He wondered if right now there was a big mulie nosing up to the chickenwire fence around all these dead Indians. He wondered what that big mulie saw, really. If it was just waiting all of these two-leggers out.
Cheeto would have thought it was a pretty deer, Ricky figured. He had never been a kid to get up early with Ricky to be out in the trees when light broke. He hadn’t liked killing anything except beers, probably would have been vegetarian if that was on option on the rez. His orange hair put enough of a bullseye on his back, though. Eating rabbit food would have just got
more dumb Indians lining up to put him down.
But then he’d died on that couch anyway, not even from anybody else, just from himself, at which point Ricky figured he’d get out as well, screw it. Sure, he could be this crew’s chain monkey for a week or two. Yeah, he could sleep four to a doghouse with all these white boys, the wind rocking the trailer. No, he didn’t mind being Chief, though he knew that, had he been around back in the days of raiding and running down buffalo, he’d have been a grunt then as well. Whatever the bow and arrow version of a chain monkey was, that’d be Ricky Boss Ribs’s station.
When he was a kid there’d been a picture book in the library, about Heads-Smashed-In or whatever it was called—the buffalo jump, where the oldtime Blackfeet ran herd after herd off the cliff. Ricky remembered that the boy selected to drape a calf robe over his shoulders and run out in front of all those buffalo, he’d been the one to win all the races the elders had put him and all the other kids in, and he’d been the one to climb all the trees the best, because you needed to be fast to run ahead of all those tons of meat, and you needed good hands to, at the last moment after sailing off the cliff, grab onto the rope the men had already left there, that would tuck you up under, safe.
What had it been like, sitting there while the buffalo flowed down through the air within arm’s reach, bellowing, their legs probably stiff because they didn’t know for sure when the ground was coming?
What had it felt like, bringing meat to the whole tribe.
They’d almost done it last Thanksgiving, him and Gabe and Lewis and Cass, they’d meant to, they were going to be those kinds of Indians for once, they had been going to show everybody in Browning that this is the way it’s done, but then the big wet snow had come in and everything had gone pretty much straight to hell, leaving Ricky out here in North Dakota like he didn’t know any better than to come in out of the cold.
All he was going to hunt in Minneapolis was tacos, and a bed.
But, until then, this beer would work.
The bar was all roughnecks, wall to wall. No fights yet, but give it time. There was another Indian, Dakota probably, nursing a bottle in a corner by the pool tables. He’d acknowledged Ricky and Ricky had nodded back, but there was as much distance between the two of them as there was between Ricky and his crew.
More important, there was a blond waitress balancing a tray of empties between and among. Fifty sets of eyes were tracking her, easy. To Ricky she looked like the tall girl Lewis had run off to Great Falls with in July, but she’d probably already left his ass, meaning now he was sitting in a bar down there just like this one, peeling the label off his beer just the same.
Ricky lifted his bottle in greeting, across all the miles.
Four beers and nine country songs later, he was standing in line for the urinal. Except the line was snaking all back down the hall already, and the last time he’d been in there there’d already been guys pissing in the trashcan and the sink both. The air in there was gritty and yellow, almost crunched between Ricky’s teeth when he’d accidentally opened his mouth. It wasn’t any worse than the honeypots out at the rig, but out at the rig you could just unzip wherever, let fly.
Ricky backed out, drained his beer because cops love an Indian with a beer bottle in the great outdoors, and made to push his way out for a breath of fresh air, maybe a fencepost in desperate need of watering.
At the exit the bouncer opened his meaty hand against Ricky’s chest, warned him about leaving. Something about the headcount and the fire marshal.
Ricky looked past the open door to the clump of roughnecks and cowboys waiting to come in, their eyes flashing up to him but not asking for anything. It was the queue Ricky would have to mill around in to wait his turn to get back in. But it was starting to not really be his decision anymore, right? Inside of maybe ninety seconds, here, he was going to be peeing, so any way he could up the chances of being somewhere he could do that without making a mess of himself, well.
He could stand in a thirty-minute line to eyeball that blond waitress some more, sure.
Ricky turned sideways to slip past the bouncer, nodding that he knew what he was doing, and already a roughneck was stepping forward to take his place.
There wasn’t even any time to stiffleg it over beside the bar, by the steaming pile of bags the dumpsters were. Ricky just walked straight ahead, out into the sea of crew cab trucks parked more or less in rows, and on the way he unleashed almost before he could come to a stop, had to lean back from it because this was a serious firehose situation.
He closed his eyes from the purest pleasure he’d felt in weeks, and when he opened them, he had the feeling he wasn’t alone anymore.
He steeled himself.