the Little Red Reviewer

Really good horror. . . and why I avoid it

Posted on: March 13, 2021


I’m reading The Only Good Indians, by Stephen Graham Jones. All I heard online was how good this book is.  And it is damn good.  It is also scary AF.   Apparently while people were talking about it online, my eyes kept glossing over people saying it was a horror book.  And that it’s, ahhh, kinda gruesome. 


And I love that people love horror! 


But I don’t love it.   It’s just too scary for me, it always ends up feeling like something I can’t escape, like an itch that I can’t rub off because the itch is on a phantom limb.   And the thing in the world I fear the most is not being able to get away from something that is freaking me out. (it makes sensory overload super fun. And by fun, I mean super awful) In scenes in books or  movies where someone is powerless and can’t escape, I am flat out terrified to the point where I may not even register that other, happier plot points are happening.  


And sometimes I fall so deep into stories that I find myself at the bottom of a deep well. And sometimes it takes me a while to climb out.  


As I write this blog post, I’m most of the way through The Only Good Indians,  I just finished the sweat lodge scene.


Spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.   (any of you remember that rambling not-a-review blog post I wrote about Artificial Condition by Martha Wells?   Yeah, this post is kinda like that).


The plot of The Only Good Indians goes something like this:  ten years ago, four friends did something really, really stupid. Cassidy, Lewis, Gabriel and Ricky knew what they were doing was wrong, and they got in trouble for it, and they thought they’d paid the price, and they tried to get on with their lives. 


This is a story of revenge. 


The tribal authorities punished the men for their poaching.


But the spirit of that mama elk, she answers to no human authority, and she will have her own revenge, in her own way. She will take what was taken from her.


What I need to keep reminding myself, is that in any horror story, the fate of the characters is already sealed.  Doesn’t matter if I haven’t gotten to the last page yet,  the author wrote that last page months or years ago, hundreds of thousands of people have already read that last page.  That character I’m reading about? Their future is literally set in stone. Mine isn’t.  It’s a difference between us: my future isn’t written yet, theirs is. 


But something we have in common is that our pasts have already been written, and that character can’t escape their past mistakes in the same way that I can’t escape mine. 


To be crystal clear:  the “dumb shit” I did as a teen and in my early 20s was 99% thoughtless and selfish things.  I never did anything stupid enough that someone got hurt. But they could have. I could have, and a couple of times I did.  That thing parents say “what were you thinking? Oh yeah, you weren’t.”, yep, that was me.  Did I do plenty of good things? Of course I did! But all can I remember is the thoughtless  and selfish things that I can’t escape.  I don’t usually beat myself up about these things, but I can’t forget that I did them.

So anyway. The Only Good Indians.  The first character we get to know is Lewis.  And as he (and then the other characters) are thinking back on the stupid shit they did and that maybe now they are paying for it, like, really really paying for it,  I can’t help but think back on the nowhere-near-as-stupid shit I did as a teen.  (Really? I am beating myself up over something that everyone else in the universe forgot about more than 20 years ago?)


Lewis and the others are being hunted by someone who is a stranger to them. She knows them, but they don’t know her. 


The thing that keeps me up at night, that reminds me of all the stupid shit I’ve done? She’s no stranger to me. She looks at me and says “you’ll never escape me. Because I am you, bitch.”


And that is why I avoid horror. I often fall too deep into stories.  When I fall in too deep, at the bottom of that well is that idiot version of younger me, who I’ve been trying to grow past for 20 years.  Horror reminds me that I’ll never escape her.  That it doesn’t matter how many good things I’ve done, or that I do.  Everything idiot-young-me did, all those things are still set in stone, on the earlier pages of the novel that is my life.  


I’m sure Lewis and Ricky and Gabriel and Cass,  I’m sure they have a list a mile long of wonderful, selfless things they did. A million times they did the right thing.   And just like me, they are so obsessed with the very wrong thing they did, they are blinded to the good things they did (also, them only talking about all their good deeds would make for not the  book the author set out to write!)


Maybe that’s what that phrase “we can’t change the past, but we can change the future” is all about – that we’re all running from our younger, idiot selves, and maybe enough good things will overwrite our stupid things. 


You should go read The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones.  It’s really good.  Like, really, really fucking good. I didn’t get anything done this morning, because I couldn’t put that book down.


But I’m probably not gonna read anything scary for a little while, ok?



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30 Responses to "Really good horror. . . and why I avoid it"

Wow, you picked a pretty hard core horror book, lol! This was my favorite book of 2020 and also my first SGJ book. If it makes you feel better, the book ends on an upbeat note, and by “upbeat” I mean SGJ’s version of upbeat:-)

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probably going to finish it tonight.

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finished it. you described the end just perfectly!

then picked up a satire as a palate cleanser.

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Just yesterday I read a science article about people who find it easy to visualise stories are also much more affected by written horror than people who don’t do that.

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I can’t help but visualize just about everything.


There are people who don‘t visualize when reading? How does that even work?

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Oh yes. There are frequently discussions about this on reddit. Large groups of readers do not visualise while reading. Many are unable to. It is called aphantasia. I don’t really understand how it works, but many readers seem to read faster without it.

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i wish i could visualize a little less, to be honest. on a scale of one to ten, i’m like a 23. being an 8 would be nice.


It’s not about speed though, it’s about getting engaged in the story. Having that movie running in my head, whilst reading… 😏

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I know, but many people can’t do it. Both sides do not understand the other. There are even writers who cannot visualise the writing.


That‘s even odder! Oh well… I have a friend who only reads non-fiction and no novels at all. He finds them pointless, as they are not real… 🤷‍♀️

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Does he watch movies then? Or are they also not real? 😀

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Not sure, actually. We haven‘t spent time together for ages…

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I already knew I wouldn’t touch that book, as good as it might be. Because horror. One day as a teen I wondered why I couldn’t sleep. Guess what? Too much Stephen King and Lovecraft.
I stopped horror because I atoned for it with my sleep and that’s not worth it.
Sometimes I fall for it , often unknowingly. Stories by Gene Wolfe, stories in anthologies, or the recent Clark book „Ring Shout“. That was just great and cost me dearly. 🤣

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i’m usually pretty good about avoiding it. usually. I even avoid haunted houses. Kinda thought Ring Shout would be too scary for me, thank you for confirming!

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“is that idiot version of younger me, who I’ve been trying to grow past for 20 years. Horror reminds me that I’ll never escape her. That it doesn’t matter how many good things I’ve done, or that I do. Everything idiot-young-me did, all those things are still set in stone, on the earlier pages of the novel that is my life.”

heavy heavy carrying…………

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I’m like you, no horror please, though I did like The Changeling (not really gruesome). If it’s any comfort, I’m still beating myself up for things I did 50 years ago. I had to write a few hundred thousand words to get away from the consequences of that kind of thinking. It worked too! All the best –

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nice to know I’m not alone! your few hundred thousand words, were they focused on getting away, or were they just words, on any topic you wanted? #AskingForAFriend


I hear this.
And I’ve put this book on my tbr list …

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even tho it was too gruesome for me, it really was a freakin’ fantastic book. the end is #Chef’sKiss

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… and I am even further intrigued… 😃

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I thought this was pretty boring for a horror novel. And the plot was allover the place. I actually DNFd the book, although I did a very fast skim through the ending…

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omg, So. Much. Basketball. I don’t dislike basketball? But I never played basketball, so I don’t know the slang or the plays. lol, some of those opening scenes, took me a little while to figure out they were talking about motorcycles. more slang I didn’t know. I hear exactly what you’re saying, I thought the whole story would be from Lewis’s point of view, and I got pretty invested in him! the POV changing was a major WTF moment for me.

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And that POV change killed the story for me. I never got that invested again in any of the other characters.

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Don’t read horror, not since maybe the Sixties. I don’t want to be frightened, scared or horrified, I want to enjoy and be entertained. So this would be a non-starter for me.


I’m with you, I want to enjoy and be entertained!

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I don’t read a lot of horror but I do go through my phases lol. It’s scary! Sometimes a book is too scary and I have nightmares lol.

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i learned the hard way to avoid scary movies and most of all to avoid haunted houses. because yep, nightmares.

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Oh, I’m feeling this. I can’t do real horror, just horror-lite (such as Grady Hendrix, who I just read). Last night I was reading a short story in a collection of old MYSTERY stories, and so I had no warning that it would be one of the scariest stories I’ve ever read in my life. I stayed up another hour reading the nicest, funniest thing I could find in hopes of being able to sleep. Note to self: no reading this SGJ guy.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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