Children in The Twilight Zone

As I mentioned in my post about The X-Files, The Twilight Zone was a favorite show of mine in my own youth. When I set out to cover childhood in spooky entertainment, I was curious to see what childhood looked like on The Twilight Zone. I could not remember many episodes that featured kids. When I went looking for episodes to study, I really did not find that many focused on children, but a common theme emerged quickly in the episodes that did—adults treat kids pretty badly in The Twilight Zone. As any casual viewer of the show knows, most episodes of The Twilight Zone end with a short, sharp commentary on human behavior. What I found was that the episodes that focus on children are most often commenting on the relationship between children, adults, and imagination, with children usually (not always) holding a moral high ground counter to their adults. 

If you enjoy The Twilight Zone and its take on life, you would like Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone by Mark Dawidziak. It’s a short, pity read that examines classic episodes, the lessons they teach, and what they have meant to actors, filmmakers, and other creators. 

In this post, I am focusing on the seasons that are currently available on Netflix, curiously seasons one, two, three, and five. Because there aren’t that many children in general, I have focused on children rather than girls specifically. 

Children on The Twilight Zone

Nightmare as a Child (1.29) In “Nightmare as a Child,” a woman who was traumatized by witnessing her mother’s murder returns to her hometown after years away. She comes home one night to find a little girl sitting on the stairs outside her apartment and befriends the “strange…sullen and wise” child only to later discover that the girl is herself from the time her mother was killed, a manifestation of her repressed memories coming back. Often, children represent things that adults are afraid of, but this episode makes that dynamic literal. The ep, written by Rod Serling, also reminds me of a Hitchcock movie on a small scale. 

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Childhood Innocence in Adaptations of The Turn of the Screw from The Innocents to The Haunting of Bly Manor

A ghost!? in The Innocents (1961). Keep an eye out for a recreation of this shot in The Haunting of Bly Manor

On October 9th, Netflix released The Haunting of Bly Manor, a followup to last year’s The Haunting of Hill House. Whereas Hill House was inspired by one of my favorite books by Shirley Jackson (I’ve written about my love of her here), Bly Manor is loosely based on another one of my all-time faves—The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. In the story, a governess takes a job at a remote manor house and is gradually driven mad as she tries to unravel the mystery of the governess who held the job before her (Miss Jessel), the wicked gardener (Peter Quint) who was her lover, and if the ghosts of these two people are having a corrupting influence on the children under her care, Flora and Miles. (Mild spoilers ahead for The Haunting of Bly Manor and The Turn of the Screw in general, but I have tried not to ruin the ending of any of them. As a result, my analysis is rather surface level, I suppose).

James’s 1898 novella takes place in an interesting context for the history of childhood, which lends itself to the ambiguity at the heart of the story: has the governess gone mad, are the ghosts real, are the children messing with her, or is it some combination of the above? 

A Very Brief Overview of The Innocent Ideal of the Child

In James’s time, views of childhood had shifted significantly and childhood became increasingly commodified. For centuries, children were viewed as miniature adults who were not entitled to additional protection from the state. In contrast to today’s view of children as innocents, some Evangelicals during the 19th century viewed children as inherently immoral, in need of strict discipline to save their souls. The very notion of children as a protected category of person emerged during the 19th Century as Victorian ideals about domesticity took hold. In the latter half of the century, social reforms began protecting children’s rights to education, safety, and leisure. Child labor laws, juvenile justice reforms, and other such legislation went into effect, codifying the growing cultural view that childhood was separate from adulthood and was a time meant to be spent in innocent play. With the rise of this view of childhood, children also became increasingly targeted by capitalism. In tandem with the growth of the mass-production of consumer products, more and more items hit the market aimed at children. And, children were also increasingly consumed by adults as the subjects of entertainment. (This is a very brief overview, for more depth, see the works in the suggested reading below). 

And yet, there was a dark side to the codification of childhood innocence. In Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture, James Kincaid argues that by emphasizing childhood and the innocence of children so much, Victorian culture drew attention to the child in a way that was pedophilic. That argument seems pretty extreme, but consider one of the most famous Victorian children—Alice of Alice in Wonderland. Alice is based on a real little girl who author Lewis Carroll had what seems like a very inappropriate interest in. The argument follows that as we continue to idealize childhood, we open children up to exploitation because we have made them perversely desirable. Conversely, it can be argued that in solidifying this idea that children are innocent (as in unknowing, pure, and good) we oversimplify what real children can be, forgetting that children can also be mean, manipulative, and other not-so-sweet aspects of human people. If you’ve ever had a child treat you in a less than angelic fashion, you know that children can be naughty in a way that does not line up with this notion that they are an innocent ideal. 

Childhood Innocence in The Turn of the Screw 

In The Turn of the Screw, Henry James plays with this tension between the knowingness of children and their innocence. The governess struggles to understand if Miles is malicious in his treatment of her or if he is just being a young boy (or, perhaps, these two are not mutually exclusive). Similarly, at first, she views Flora as a beautiful angel, who is innocent of any bad behavior and is in need of protection from the dangers at Bly. As her mental state deteriorates, the governess starts to view the children’s good behavior as a manipulative charade, with Flora under the influence of her brother or the ghosts. As she starts to see Flora’s role in the mystery, she asserts that when she behaves badly, Flora is not even a child:

“She’s not alone, and at such times she’s not a child; she’s an old, old woman.”

In doing so, the governess separates Flora’s childhood—her innocence—from the bad behavior. She compartmentalizes them irrationally.

In Miles’s case, the governess’s waffling perspective on innocence is especially pronounced. When Miles is sent home from school, she finds him as beautiful and charming as she does Flora, and concludes, essentially, that he was too pure for school, anyway:

“My conclusion bloomed there with the real rose-flush of his innocence: he was only too fine and fair for the little horrid unclean school-world, and he had paid a price for it.”

As Miles continues to alternately flirt with and frighten the governess, she starts to suspect that he is not the angel she believed him to be. But, she blames his badness on the influence of Peter Quint. Miles even tells the governess he can be bad—he warns her to imagine what he could really do if he wanted—but she has a hard time imagining that he could be bad because he is a beautiful child. In the end, she turns the situation into a zero-sum premise in which either the ghosts are real and corrupting the children or the children are innocent and she is mad:

“It was for the instant confounding and bottomless, for if he were innocent what then on earth was I?” 

The ambiguity of James’s story insinuates that drawing these stark boundaries around the children’s behavior does not make much sense.

Film Adaptations of The Turn of the Screw

Because of the juicy ambiguity of James’s novella, its Gothic setting, and the relative simplicity of its cast and plot, The Turn of the Screw is ripe for cinematic adaptation. Many different films and miniseries have been made based on the original story and I’d like to look at a few versions and if/how they preserve James’s take on the children. 

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Girlhood on The X-Files: Top 5 Episodes

Happy October! Welcome to the spooky season and part one of a four-part series looking at girlhood in some of my favorite spooky entertainment. This week, I am taking a look at girlhood on The X-Files (do do do do do doooo).

Girlhood on The X-Files

I have such good memories of The X-Files from my own girlhood; for me, it was really the gateway drug to creepy entertainment. (I mean, other than Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark). My dad enjoyed the show, but it came on around the time that he usually went to bed, since he had to get up so early to go to work as a morning show host. That meant that he usually fell asleep watching it. In the house we lived in until I was in the sixth grade, my parents’ bedroom was next door to mine and, after they got a little TV set for their room, I would sneak to sit in the doorway of their room, watching The X-Files while Dad was asleep and Mom was watching her own show downstairs. Did it scare the crap out of me? Yes. Did I love it? Yes! The monster of the week episodes have always been my favorite, and, later, Dad and I would spend Saturday afternoons watching reruns of The Twilight Zone or old B horror movies such as Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. When it came to The X-Files, though, I was waaaaay more into the show than Dad was. Perhaps it was because of how dreamy Agent Mulder could be, or perhaps it was because, as I entered my teen years, I was at an age prone to getting obsessed with things. Either way, The X-Files and Early Edition ruled my early adolescent TV screen.
When it comes to girls on The X-Files, the first character who comes to mind is Samantha Mulder. The abduction of his sister motivates Mulder to go into the FBI and to explore alien phenomena. More on that later. The presentation of Samantha Mulder as an innocent who needs to be saved or avenged is not the only representation of girlhood on the show, however. On a show that had a relatively complicated take on human nature and an often Twilight Zone-like bite to its commentary on human behavior, girlhood is no less twisted than anything else. Often, girls are connected to the show’s obsession with fertility, its poking fun at Satanic Panic, and the darkness with which it generally presents childhood. Often on the show, children are victims or observers of the bad behavior of adults. Just as often, however, they are perpetrators of their own schemes. The following are my top 5 episodes of The X-Files about girls (in chronological order). Spoiler alert, obviously. This show is almost 30 years old, c’mon.

Top 5 Episodes

Come play with us forever.

Eve (1.11) This episode features evil twins! Sort of. Like I mentioned, The X-Files is obsessed with fertility (Scully’s, “Small Potatoes”, “Home”, “All Souls”, “Terms of Endearment”—It’s everywhere). In this case, Scully and Mulder are investigating a strange murder, which turns into two murders, which turns into them almost getting murdered by two girls who were created as part of a secret government project that genetically modified children (called Adams or Eves), who ended up with super strength, intelligence, and homicidal behavior and/or psychosis. What I love about the young Eves, Teena and Cindy, is that they play the role of the innocent little girl, but their muted affect is a little creepy, and they are really whipsmart little murderers. They use what people see when they look at young girls against them. When the jig is up, one of them tells Mulder “We’re just little girls,” and it is darkly funny.

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Reflections on Our Birth Story

Julio and me a couple of hours before things got really real.

Sometimes, I catch myself feeling homesick for the most intense points in my life. For example, when I studied abroad in college and experienced acute loneliness or when I was depressed after a bad breakup in graduate school and lived on the couch. After my father died, I was not ready to be on the other side of his funeral. I wanted to stay in the protective bubble between his passing and the wake, because I sensed that when we had to go back to living, when we were no longer in the all-encompassing immediacy of our grief, it would be a difficult transition. In these periods, the experience was totally consuming, a terrible oasis from multi-tasking and the distractions of everyday life. The emotional rawness was transformative, and it is as though a part of my psyche stayed there while the rest of me moved forward with my life. In quiet moments, these parts tug on me with a feeling that is strangely like nostalgia. I have no doubt that I have left a piece of myself in the labor and delivery unit. This time, however, the experience was all-consuming but also joyful and empowering. 

In The Fourth Trimester, Kimberly Johnson recommends that women write about their birth experience within 48 hours of delivery as a way to process and incorporate the experience and what it means to them. I read her book after that 48-hour window had closed, but of course, my notebook was in my purse and I journaled about birth during sweet newborn naps at the hospital. Johnson also explains that after delivery, a woman may need to close her birth energy, which can be difficult if a birth experience was traumatic on one hand or exhilarating on the other: “Often if women have had a revelatory birth experience, there may be an inner hesitancy to seal their system back up, lest they lose contact with the bliss and transcendence that they encountered during the birth.” 

For a week after giving birth, I did feel hesitant to move on, because the experience had been so intense and ultimately positive that I felt a little stuck in that headspace. I was riding high on adrenaline and oxytocin. I was a little bit in love with birth and with the people who attended my daughter’s birth. “You were amazing,” I told the nurses, the midwife, my husband. I think I told the baby she was amazing, too. 

She was amazing—my silent partner in labor. In fact, many of the natural birth resources I used emphasized the role of “the passenger” among the four Ps of birth (passenger, passage, powers, and psychology). On Birth Kweens, a funny and informative podcast that helped me prepare, the hosts (a midwife and a doula) often remind listeners that birth never goes according to plan. In one episode, they half-jokingly assert that no one knows how birth is going to go except for the babies, and they aren’t telling us ahead of time. After our daughter’s delivery, I have thought a lot about what I read and heard about babies sending signals to get the birth that they need. 

Preparing for Natural Birth After Induction

As I noted in my post on our single umbilical artery, I had an induction of labor at 40 weeks. I tried every natural method possible to encourage spontaneous labor at home, because I felt very committed to having an unmedicated, intervention-free delivery and, statistically, having an induction increased my odds of some sort of intervention. When I discussed my concerns with the midwife, she was reassuring that having the induction was meant to prevent an emergency situation for the baby that would be a reason for a cesarean section. She cautioned me, however, that inductions tend to take a long time; commonly, when women opt for epidurals after induction, it is not because of pain, it is because they are exhausted. I did not want an epidural because I wanted to be able to move through my labor. To me, the nuts and bolts of delivering with an epidural actually sounded much less appealing than the pain. That’s just me.

So, I prepared my head for a long haul. I studied my coping techniques from the Birth Kweens and Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel. Julio and I talked about visualizations and using sports psychology to get through the tests of endurance and stamina. “I can do anything for one minute at a time,” became my mantra.

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(Book Review) Say It Louder! Black Voters, White Narratives, and Saving Our Democracy

Say It Louder! Black Voters, White Narratives, and Saving Our Democracy by Tiffany D. Cross

This book is a little bit of a bait and switch. It is packaged like a more academic nonfiction title, but it’s actually much heavier on personal narrative than I expected. Fortunately, the voice behind that narrative is smart, highly informed, and funny. In Say It Louder! Tiffany D. Cross reflects on her experiences working in news media to explain how the perspectives of white voters are over-emphasized, skewing the narrative when it comes to Black voters, or erasing them altogether.

One of the most enjoyable parts of this book is how direct and funny Cross is about racism and the media. For example, she writes “Too many would describe Trump’s outright racist remarks as having ‘racial undertones.’ If someone can tell me the difference between a person who makes comments with racial undertones and someone who is an outright racist, I’ll send you a free copy of this book” (10). She also treats us to metaphors like “Trying to keep up with the anarchy that the Trump administration brought is like trying to catch confetti” (2).

Cross uses this wit to take the media to task for the “racial undertones” of their reporting on MAGA demonstrations, white economic anxiety, and police brutality, and in segments such as “The Good Stuff” on CNN. I think that one of the strongest, most revealing parts of the book is the section on white economic anxiety and how it was reported on by the media in 2016, when most of the white voters who voted for Donald Trump were not working class and the working class is increasingly a majority BIPOC. She also does a great job of explaining how the continued emphasis on Ohio as a swing state, despite its declining population, represents an emphasis on the interests of white voters.

Through examining these issues, as well as voter suppression in Ohio and Florida and the dearth of Black journalists at major outlets, Cross argues that “media coverage enables the erasure of Black folk from democracy” (154). Although Cross makes a compelling and detailed case, the argument is not very clearly structured. I think that is the book’s one big flaw. The conversational tone is a major plus in terms of readability and my enjoyment of the book, but it does tend to bounce from topic to topic.

If you have read One Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson, Say It Louder! makes a good complement to that text. If you have not read much about voter suppression, I would recommend reading up on that in addition to this text, but Cross makes a solid case for how the media is complicit in the damage being done to our democratic process.

Thoughts on the Cuties Controversy After Actually Watching the Film

Angelica and Amy in Cuties

This week #CancelNetflix was trending on Twitter in response to the release of a French film by Afro-French director, Maimouna Doucoure, Mignonnes, or as it is called here in the U.S., Cuties. The film focuses on an eleven-year-old immigrant from Senegal who becomes “fascinated” by a dance troupe and their provocative style. Those who want to cancel Netflix over the film are accusing the streaming service of distributing child pornography. Although I watched the widely-circulated clip of the group’s racy performance and was very uncomfortable with it, I hesitantly watched Cuties because I suspected that the outrage was lacking context. 

What I found was that Cuties is a fairly tame coming of age story with several moments of uncomfortably sexual content that, when taken in context with the rest of the film, build toward a critique of the models of femininity girls are presented with as they mature. A key to this critique is how much of the film is focused on Amy watching other girls and women. She watches her mother and other women in her community as they model a specific, traditional femininity shaped by their Muslim faith and their culture in Senegal. As Amy’s mother and Auntie begin to teach her how to be a woman in their culture, she starts to grow increasingly upset by the burden her mother carries, represented by the pain caused by her polygamous father taking a second wife. Amy watches the Cuties modeling a rebellious, precocious version of young femininity. And, she watches women in music videos perform an even more sexualized version of this same femininity. In the women and girls Amy watches, she therefore sees two extreme versions of womanhood. The film makes this contrast explicit in its last minutes when it lingers on a shot of Amy’s racy dance costume and the traditional dress she is supposed to wear for her father’s wedding, both laid out on her bed.

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Our Single Umbilical Artery (SUA) Pregnancy Experience

single umbilical artery

Image of single umbilical artery from

There was really no point in my pregnancy that I was not afraid I was going to lose the baby. In part, that fear stemmed from the emotional rollercoaster that pregnancy after loss can be under the best circumstances. And, in part, it arose from finding out that the baby and I had a single umbilical artery.

We found out about the SUA at our 20 week anomaly scan, and the doctors were moderately reassuring. I am a researcher by training, however, and when I went in search of more information on my own, what I found was just frightening. And I couldn’t find any stories from families—just a bunch of medical journal articles that kept me up at night with visions of stillbirth. So, I wanted to share our story to put something a little more personal out there, in case you find yourself in this situation. DISCLAIMER: please do not take this as medical advice. I’m not that kind of doctor. This is just our family’s story.

What is a single umbilical artery?

I had never heard of it before, but a single umbilical artery affects an estimated 1 in 100 pregnancies. Not that rare, really. Basically, a typical umbilical cord is made up of one big vessel and two arteries. One of the midwives told me that it looks like a smiley face. The vessel is what brings the blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the baby. The arteries are what carry waste away from the baby. In theory, having just one of those arteries does not have to affect the baby whatsoever. At least 75% of these babies come out just fine and you’d never know that there was a SUA unless it was found on the ultrasound or until cutting the cord. A lot of doctors don’t even check for it.

When paired with other anomalies, however, a SUA can be a soft marker for chromosomal abnormalities. On our 20-week scan, they also saw a “bright spot” on our daughter’s heart. I knew something was up, because the sonographer, who isn’t allowed to really say anything, asked twice if I’d had a Quad Screen done. Again, on its own, that bright spot means nothing, but with the two put together… The doctor (a specialist, not my usual provider) told me that with those two markers and my age (ahem, I am only 33, thank you very much), he’d put the chance of Down Syndrome at about 1 in 300 and he recommended that we do genetic testing.

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(Book Review) The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

the black kidsThe Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

The Black Kids is set in Los Angeles in 1992, beginning just before the verdict in the Rodney King trial is handed down. Seventeen-year-old Ashley and her prep school friends are busy preparing for the prom. Underneath the dayglow exterior of their lives, though, Ashley has a lot of thoughts about race and her white friends’ often hurtful attitudes. She is also dealing with the prospect of her nanny moving back to Guatemala and a protracted conflict between her parents and her radical older sister, Jo. Then, the verdict and the riots bring so many personal conflicts in Ashley’s circle to a tipping point.

In 1992, I was in kindergarten. If the history of Rodney King and the riots over the officers’ acquittals is not something in your memory either, this book is not a good first source to learn about it. What it does really, really well is use the context of that history to draw out how race and privilege impact Ashley’s life and her relationships. Whereas she and her sister benefit from the cushy life their parents have worked hard to give them—a very sheltered home and attendance at a prep school—their cousin grows up in one of the neighborhoods heavily impacted by the riots and the looting. When the family comes together, their different perspectives illustrate how the events might affect people differently based not only on race, but also on class and location. Ashley also focuses on Latasha Harlins (122-23), whose murder by a convenience store owner who was acquitted, was another—often forgotten—tipping point leading up to the riots. Lastasha’s story is personal to Ashley in a way that emphasizes the book’s focus on the intersection between gender and race. Furthermore, Christina Hammonds Reed manages to work the 1921 Tulsa Massacre into the family history in a way that feels organic and packs a huge emotional punch, an example of generational trauma.

My favorite part of the book is its focus on the intersection between Ashley’s gender and her race. As the book starts out and she and her friends are busy partying and preparing for prom, her thoughts turn several times toward what it’s like to be a girl. For example, after explaining that one of her friends used to collect insects, she muses: “It’s a bit morbid, if you ask me, taking beautiful things and pinning them down to be admired. But that’s kinda like what happens to some girls between junior high and high school, being pretty gets in the way of being a person” (12).

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Books on School Integration and Racism

Children of the Dream

School busing has been in the news again as a result of the conflict between Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his runningmate Kamala Harris during the primary debate last year over Biden’s stance on busing in the 1980s. School integration has long been a complicated part of race relations in the United States. In 1954, the Supreme Court handed down their ruling in Brown v Board of Education, which stated that state-sponsored school segregation was unconstitutional (because it violates the 14th amendment). The resistance to integrating the schools stemmed in part from those invested in segregation (racists) knowing that integration of the schools would result in the integration of much of the culture (Johnson 1). Children would become friends with each other and that would have an integrating effect on their social circles for the rest of their lives. Integration builds empathy and humanizes those who children may have been raised to hate or fear.

The effects of busing as a tool of integration have been debated for years (for example, you can read more at NPR, The Washington Post, and Politico), but the experts largely agree that school integration does have positive effects on the achievement gap and undermining systemic racism, we just didn’t give it a chance for long enough.

Now, as conversations about anti-racism abound, taking another look at school integration is a good idea. Fortunately, there are plenty of books for doing just that. Just last year, two books came out that look at integration specifically: The Long Ride by Marina Tamar Budhos, a middle-grade novel about forced busing in New York City in 1971, and Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works by Rucker C. Johnson with Alexander Nazaryan, an academic examination of school integration and the consequences of failing to fully invest in policies to support it. Johnson and Nazaryan argue for “three powerful cures to unequal educational opportunity: (1) integration, (2) equitable school funding, and (3) high-quality preschool investments—all of which were tried before but abandoned, partly out of resistance, but also out of a lack of collective patience and wholesale integration of the policies themselves” (12). This book is a pretty academic take (it’s written by an economist), driven by data on education policy, so it is not a “casual” read, but the argument is cogent and persuasive and the authors make it even more relevant through the connections they make between educational inequality and other forms of systemic racism (they specifically examine the cases of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Freddie Gray in their intro).

Another book that may be of interest is Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations about Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum, which focuses on the psychology of racism. Three chapters in “Part II: Understanding Blackness in a White Context” examine the development of racial identity over the course of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood and can help elucidate how segregation reinforces racism.


The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell (1954) depicts Ruby Bridges being escorted to school by U.S. Marshals in New Orleans.

Books about Civil Rights Era school integration

There are also many books about the history of school integration during the 1950s, including Remember: The Journey to School Integration by Toni Morrison and Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges. A large number of books focus on Ruby Bridges or the Little Rock Nine, whose integration of their schools in New Orleans and Little Rock, respectively, became iconic images of the Civil Rights Era. I actually wrote about Ruby Bridges in my dissertation, and coverage of her story continues to be a popular way to discuss Civil Rights with young children.

a girl stands at the door

A Girl Stands at the Door: The Generation of Young Women Who Desegregated America’s Schools by Rachel Devlin is a newer (2018) book that I am very excited about. In the book, Devlin looks at the history of school integration as a grassroots movement that was largely led by girls and young women and their families, whose court cases put pressure on the federal government to act. This book does a fabulous job of centering Black girlhood, which, along with the role of Black women, often gets sidelined by the “great men theory of history,” no matter how much girls contributed to the high profile protests of the era.

Taken as a whole, these books make clear at least two important points. 1) The history of school integration is one that young people have been at the center of as active participants, not just pawns in policy wars, and 2) school integration is a vital part of dismantling systemic racism. We just have to figure out how to do it well and stick with it.

(Book Review) The Only Good Indians

the only good indiansThe Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones  (Mild spoilers ahead)

During the Indian Wars, Philip Sheridan, an army officer, was quoted as saying “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” That terrible saying was later picked up by Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every 10 are.”

Stephen Graham Jones makes a nod to that horrible history in the title of his new novel, The Only Good Indians. The novel centers on a group of four friends who commit a transgression against tribal rules and nature while on a hunting trip just before Thanksgiving and, ten years later, are made to pay for it by one of the victims of their hunt. Basically, a young, pregnant elk who they shot on land reserved for the elders is coming back to get them. Animal lovers, there are a couple of parts in this book that are going to be hard for you.

I thought that the first half of this novel was nearly perfect. Jones establishes the haunting of Lewis, one of the aforementioned friends, in a way that, like The Turn of the Screw, has the reader (and Lewis) questioning if he is just losing his grip on reality. There are some terrifying, hard to stomach images, but they stem from accidents that are really pretty mundane. The result is a highly atmospheric, tense, and downright scary ghost story.

Along with the scary bits, I think Jones also does a great job developing his characters. Lewis has a rich inner life, which builds that uncertainty over whether he is being haunted or not. Meanwhile, the two main female characters in this first half: Lewis’s wife, Peta, and coworker, Shaney, take up less of the narrative,  but there are hints of well-rounded, interesting characters beyond how they relate to Lewis himself.

And, there was some fun, odd humor in the mix as well. One of my favorite moments came when Lewis is trying to figure out what is happening to him and ends up making himself a grilled cheese, after contemplating something that reminded him of gross cheese. It is such an weird, vivid moment:

“At the kitchen table he stands before the elk bundle—the hairy burrito—for maybe thirty seconds, finally pushes a finger into it. It’s mushy and rough at the same time, smells like some soft cheese that was on the table at a party once, that he knew better than to eat.

‘Cheese,’ though. Now he’s thinking cheese.

It’ll wreck his digestion, but, figuring that’s the least of his concerns right now, he makes a grilled cheese for breakfast…” (87).

At other moments, the humor comes from the headlines Lewis writes in his head about his day-to-day life. For example, after he cleans up the kitchen: “the headline scrolling across the back of his forehead: INDIAN MAN FIRST IN HISTORY TO PICK UP AFTER HIMSELF” (88).

In the second half, the book loses steam. It continues with more of the story focusing on Lewis’s remaining friends, and dipping into the consciousness of the young elk. I found this second half less tense and therefore less scary. I could see an argument that this portion of the book brings resolution to the plot that began ten years before, but I think in widening the scope of the story, the horror is diluted and the writing gets less intimate and engaging. Even still, the first half of this book includes images and writing that will stick with me for a long time. It was an excellent read. If you have a large TBR pile going, I think this book would be great to pull out on a blustery day in late Fall. The setting around Thanksgiving time lends itself to the scary atmosphere.

Further Resources:

Live Stream of Author Event at the Tattered Cover