With fist raised
HASawarded to General of the US Army Philip Sheridanthe aphorism The only good Indian is a dead Indian carries within itself a whole vision of the Native American that haunts both Western society and the Native American people today. Remembrance of an unforgivable and disastrous genocide warning that condenses to become the title of the new horror novel by Stephen Graham Jones after his masterful Mangy which has just been reissued in paperback by the editions pocket.
A real critical and public success across the Atlantic, A good Indian is a dead Indian land this time at Shorelines and tries once again to convince the French public of the almost surreal talent of the writer Blackfeet. But are you really ready?
“When the whole world hurts you, you bite it, right? »
It is through a funny news item that we enter A good Indian is a dead Indian.
” INDIAN KILLED DURING DISPUTE OUTSIDE BAR. can we read in the newspaper. It’s a way of looking at things.
In truth, Ricky Boss Ribs didn’t really die arguing with white people outside a bar. Something else was lurking around. Something that seems impossible and yet.
Ricky is part of a group of four Indians from the same reservation in Montana and the town of Browning.
Ricky, Lewis, Gabriel, Cassidy. Four aboriginals, natives, Amerindians… well, four Indians. Choose your generation and language preference. Ten years earlier, the four friends go on an illegal hunting trip by entering land where they are not supposed to hunt caribou. But never mind, it’s the last day for them when hunting is possible, the last day an Indian should not come back without caribou.
It’s five days before turkey and football, five days before a classic Thanksgiving.
By trapping an entire herd, it is finally a carnage that occurs. A useless carnage since our four hunters will be surprised by the game warden who forces them to abandon their trophies in the snow. Among the corpses, that of a female caribou then in full gestation. The promise of a dying future in the snow.
Ten years later, Lewis lives with Peta, a white and vegetarian woman who doesn’t look much Indian, unlike Shaney, a Crow with whom he works and to whom he will end up confessing this unworthy hunt that haunts him. . Little by little, strange events occur in Lewis’s life. His dog, Harley, is strangled to death while trying to jump over the palisade, the sight of a strange Caribou-headed Woman in his living room he has to tip off his ladder, muffled hoofbeats are heard on the stairs… What is going on in Lewis’s life?
Determined to clear things up, the Blackfeet tries to disentangle the true from the false, the real from the fantastic. Until he realizes that Ricky’s death is no coincidence and that he, Cassidy and Gabriel are in danger…
Stephen Graham Jones therefore gives us a horrifying and fantastic novel plunged to the woods in Indian mythology to better grasp the reality of today. Whether A good Indian is a dead Indian is a supernatural story, it is precisely to better sketch the Native American society of today. No werewolves this time but another legendary creature that will upset the reader’s expectations.
“To protect your little one, you kick hard with your hooves. That’s what your mother did for you, up in the mountains, your first winter. His black hoof which sprang up and struck those grimacing mouths was so swift, so pure, elusive; it left a perfect arc of red droplets in its wake. But clogs are not always enough. If need be, you can order it and tear it with your teeth. And you can run slower than you can. If none of that works, if the bullets are too thick, your ears are too full of noise, your nose is too full of blood, if they’ve already taken your little one, there’s one more thing you can do.
You hide in the middle of the herd. You wait. You never forget. »
From these expectations, Stephen Graham Jones will constantly play out. Because if one could legitimately think that his novel had everything of an ordinary story of monsters, nothing is less true. The horror at the Blackfeet does not have a single face. It is not given as frontally as one might think and, in this sense, the first part ofA good Indian is a dead Indian will confuse more than one, more concerned by the living environment and the relationships maintained by Lewis than by the curse that pokes its nose between the blades of a fan.
By alternating a few gory scenes and a few particularly graphic deaths with an insidious and deadly paranoia, Stephen Graham Jones weaves a heavy and disturbing atmosphere that seems for a time not to know where it is going.
But Stephen Graham Jones has a plan. From the beginning.
The creeping, almost subliminal horror will gradually invade the page and the minds of the characters. In particular that of Lewis, archetype of the modern Indian who left his reserve to adopt a different way of life but who, deep down, never ceases to question his origins and his identity.
Very quickly, the scope moves towards Browning and the reserve to find the other accomplices, Gabriel and Cassidy.
It is here that the horror, already unveiled, affirmed as a backlash from fate, mingles with one of the central themes of the work of Graham Jones : what does it mean to be an Indian today?
From then on, the American paints the portrait of Gabriel who tries to reconnect with his daughter Denorah when her marriage is only a distant memory, then that of Cassidy who ends up finding love again after a long crossing the desert with Jolène, a Crow. And then Denorah, precisely, the Finals Girlpromised a bright and beautiful future thanks to her innate gift for basketball.
We also come across Nathan, a young man still mourning the death of his grandfather, and a sweat lodge for a traditional and highly significant Indian purification rite. Stephen Graham Jones explores identity, confronts the approach of the Indian condition according to the generation to which it is addressed and ends up showing that there is not a single identity but a plurality of paths towards our modern era. It is also the questioning of the eternal opposition between tradition and modernity, between the importance of respecting the elders and building new futures, of finding models and going beyond clichés to be who you really want.
As in Mangy, Stephen Graham Jones does not speak so much of the injustice experienced by his people in the United States as of what has become of the Natives in America today. From the horror novel, we slide towards the social novel. But that’s not all.
“What would Crazy Horse do? he wonders. No doubt he would stay here all night, and he would survey everyone as he came out, naked, when all the stones had cooled, having survived.
Or else he would count to a hundred and put an end to this Indian bullshit. »
Because deep down, if A good Indian is a dead Indian speaks of something, it is above all about family, friendship, love and the bonds that unite the characters between them. It’s about respecting generations and its roots, about the violence that inhabits America and haunts its peoples.
At the center of this hunting novel, the famous Caribou-headed Womanchanges vengeful form which symbolizes fault, injustice and redemption all at once and which calls, ultimately, to question how to put an end to the circle of violence and resentment.
By fighting, by never giving up, but also by accepting to recognize your faults and the ways to make peace with yourself.
If one dared, one could almost say that the novel of Stephen Graham Jones and a novel about reconciliation with oneself, with a past where blood was shed blindly and unjustly in defiance of rules and traditions.
If we dared, we could see a great romance in this tale where heads are torn off and caribou are gutted.
And if we dared, above all, we could say that once again, the author gives us an exciting and dense novel where horror never masks the humanity of his fallible and tortured characters.
A singular horror novel and social narrative on the reality of Indian identity, A good Indian is a dead Indian surprises with the way it defies expectations and finds the right words to speak of the deepest ills. A success, again, which confirms all the good that we already thought of Stephen Graham Jones. A major author of contemporary American literature, definitely.
“It’s not the end of the trail. […] It was never the end of the trail. »