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The Only Good Indians - Textual Relations February 2021 Reading

Rascally Badger

El Capitan de la outro espacio
(He/Him)
I really meant to participate in this, I bought the book and everything, but I really don't have reading horror in my right now.
 

Falselogic

Techno-Threadcromancer
(they/them)
I guess I can start! Spoilers Galore

I didn't know what to expect when I started the book. I thought the intro chapter was very good and set expectations that then the book went about subverting.

The House that Ran Red, for me was, the best section in the book. It starts really domestic, suburban paradise. And as we go through it all of that gets stripped away until its just a paranoid murderer fleeing from the police. The story starts with him at his most not-Indian. He is about as subsumed into American culture as American culture allows POC. He is a "good" Indian. But, and I think this is a big part of the story in the book, you take your trauma with you wherever you go. And as we learn there is a lot of trauma with Lewis and his friends.

I was unprepared for the violence but I don't think of it as unwarranted or pornographic. Jones wrote the paranoia really well I think and I believed it. (When I didn't think too hard as to the mechanics or understandings of this haunting, more on that later.) It was truly horrifying. And the end with him trying to find redemption while not understanding how to go about doing so was very effective.

The Sweat Lodge Massacre was great writing and I ate it up. Having spent a very little amount of time on some of the Apache reservations in Arizona, and having spoken to some of the local tribal leaders here in Yolo County a lot of it reads as what I've seen and heard in my real life. Reservations are not often nice places but they are home, if that makes sense? But a lot of the horror died when I started seeing things from the "Deer Woman's" (for want of a better term) point of view. It wasn't so bad at the beginning. But, by the time she's killed off Gabe and Cass and mauled Nate and his father, then become another person to beat Gabe's daughter at basketball but then can't walk around a cargo container I about gave up. This malevolent spirit could drive one person to paranoid murder, two others to thinking they'd betrayed each other, nearly killed a police officer, become a very, very good basketball player but then couldn't walk around a physical obstacle? What happened to all that intellect? I don't know if anyone else felt that way but I know I did. It just deflated a lot of the story for me.

It also felt like at times there were rules for the entity but then there weren't? Did the meat mean anything or not? The author seems to want you to think that it did but then why did Ricky die so many years before the other three?

I'll stop there. Let some other people comment and then maybe I'll take a stab at some of the reading questions.
 

Behemoth

Dostoevsky is immortal!
(he/him/his)
Finished this today! Spoilers follow.

Let's start with the things I liked: I thought the characters were well realized, if not always likeable (but likeable characters has never been a prerequisite for me enjoying a book). I also enjoyed the author's style. Someone upthread compared him to Cormac McCarthy, and there's definitely a little McCarthy in there. Although he obviously doesn't have all of McCarthy's unique tics, he has McCarthy's tendency to focus on mundane details as a way of painting a scene or character (this was almost distracting in Lewis' section, but I felt like it fell away after Lewis exited the story, so I'm not clear if it was an aspect of Lewis' personality specifically). The descriptions of the reservation were redolent with details. I'm a big fan of world building, and notwithstanding that the reservation is (or is based on) a real place, it had an immediacy to it that really delivered.

Now on to the stuff I didn't like, which was pretty much all of the horror stuff (which is unfortunate, as this is ostensibly a horror novel).

I share a loft of Falselogic's issues with the creature: what are its rules and limitations? They seem to vary from scene to scene as necessary to heighten dramatic tension, but without strictures the narrative becomes unmoored and (dare I say) uninteresting. Furthermore, and maybe this is me betraying my cultural ignorance, but the punishment seemed so out of sync from the crime that I couldn't follow the creature's motivations, even at the end. In a horror story involving a human revenant avenging a purposeful or even accidental death(s), I get it: a person is dead. But here the boys... shot an elk in an area they weren't supposed to be in? One of many that they shot? And they didn't even know it was pregnant at the time? And at least one of them felt really bad about it and tried to do penance? And because of that at least eight people are dead? Elk die all the time in the wild; pregnant elk die all the time in the wild. Why did the mostly accidental killing of this pregnant elk result in so much suffering for so many people? I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop: that a person had been killed and the narrative had just been hiding it from us; that the elk was actually a skinwalker (which would have had its own cliched problems, but still); just something more than what we got.

I'm also not a fan of horror stories that require a series of escalating (and in this case almost comical) accidents and misunderstandings. I can buy Lewis' paranoia causing him to kill Shaney, but Peta just happens to step wrong off the ladder and crack her head? Jo just happens to be under the truck, and not slither out when it first gets knocked? Nathan just happens to be shot by Cassidy? Either these are the unluckiest people in the universe, or the elk lady is somehow able to warp the fabric of reality to make these things happen. But if it's the latter, see Falselogic's and my complaints about the lack of (or inconsistently applied) rules.

Now, I'm willing to acknowledge that the whole tale may be intended to be metaphorical: that the characters have bad luck because a lot of bad shit happens to a lot of Native Americans; that the punishment doesn't match the crime because Native Americans face the Catch 22 of adhering to an ancient set of traditions that seem inapplicable in the modern day, only to be ground down by the modern world if they stray from the path. I'm also not Native American, so obviously my reading could be shallow, naive, or insulting (or all three). But to me the most effective horror operates as both text AND subtext, and unfortunately to me this failed to deliver on the former.
 
Yeah, you two have put into words something I just couldn't quite place about the monster. The inconsistency was spooky at first, then just confusing. I thought there might be multiple evil spirits until the monster started narrating as well which made it clear there was only one creature.

Also going back to the book club discussions here are a few questions that I think are related to what we're discussing:

5. As the story unfolds, it seems less and less likely that Ricky and Lewis were imagining that an elk was after them. What did you believe was happening at this point in the narrative?

I mean, I knew it was a horror novel. Something supernatural was going on. As I mentioned above I thought it might be multiple ghosts from the herd, and maybe it was for Ricky? We only get the single-elk perspective after Lewis dies with the calf. I was really intrigued and I still do like the monster as a concept.

7. Having already heard Lewis's account of the night ten years ago, how does hearing Elk's version of events change your perspective? Does it make revenge justified?


Revenge on him, yes. But I hate how "objects of affection" are always killed in horror media. Women and dogs are not objects. I go back and forth on if this is really refrigeration. I don't think so because the men are just running in terror, there's no real action taken against the spirit by any of them so the women and dogs deaths aren't being used to drive their characters. But it is still really uncomfortable that just because women happen to be around they're brutally killed, and receive the most gratuitous descriptions of their death. To me the overly detailed deaths of the women (and of course the whole pregnancy thing) are what push it toward the pornographic violence category.

10. On page 156, Gabe mentions emptying his dad's freezer of the last bit of elk meat from their hunt ten years ago and feeding it to the dogs. How does this moment tie into what is happening now? How does it foreshadow what is to come?

Page 168 in my edition. Lewis theorizes that someone did this so it was hinted at, but I hate how all the dogs died. It's a very good setup for why this happened.

The author seems to want you to think that it did but then why did Ricky die so many years before the other three?

Wait, I thought these were all close together in time? Lewis calls home at the start of all this happening after hearing about Ricky? Or did I misinterpret this?

13. When Elk Head Woman sets her plan in motion, things unravel quickly for Cassidy and Gabe. She has no remorse for anyone who gets caught in the crossfire. Discuss how everything from one angle implodes, but from her standpoint goes like clockwork. Do you this this level of violence is warranted? Is this revenge or overkill?

I get that it was supposed to be revenge for the entire herd, but this was overkill and I didn't like it. I think I've already discussed this enough in the rest of this post so I won't re-hash it.
 

Egarwaen

(He/Him)
I had a lot of these same questions, but I was able to answer them in a way that I found satisfactory. My answer came from working backwards from Denny's appearance at the end of the book. Denny's the reservation game warden; I'm not sure of all the implications of that, but from the book I gather he's someone the tribe's put in charge of managing their hunting rights, setting rules that everyone follows, ensuring that they don't over-hunt or drive away the herds that the tribe relies on for food. He's an authority figure, but he's a tribal authority figure. While white outsiders recognize him, his authority derives from and is defined by the tribe.

And Elk Head Woman is powerless against him.

Now, maybe that's just because he's at the top of a hill with a big rifle and she's not. But I really think there's more to it. Horror, as a genre, is about power. It relies on manipulating our perceptions of who has power and who should have power. Denny having power where others don't is a key. He winds up not needing to use that power, because Denorah finds another resolution, but he can. Specifically, he seems to have power over hunts. He sets the rules for what's allowed and what isn't, and can step in to stop hunts that have broken those rules.

So who else has power?

Until Denny shows up, Elk Head Woman has power. Most of the characters in the story can't oppose her at all - cops, bounty hunters, boys, men, women. She gets to break the laws of life and death, of time and age, of physical form. She can kill an entire pack of ferocious dogs, shrug off handgun fire, walk for miles without tiring... And she can manipulate perception, a power she uses to lure people into situations where they're vulnerable, where they're exposed.

Denorah has power. She's able to beat Elk Head Woman at basketball - or, at least, able to not lose to her. She's able to see clearly what Elk Head Woman is before she's completely exposed. She's able to get away, to flee to safety. She's able to switch contexts, giving Elk Head Woman a resolution to her grievance that doesn't involve yet more death.

From there, I kept working backwards, to the second story of elk being hunted in the book - when they were lured close to town, trapped by a flashing wall of steel, and gunned down. First, no transgression here, no ghost elk wandering around taking its revenge. Everyone played by the rules. The herd was lured out of place, into a situation where it was vulnerable by manipulating its perceptions, leveraging knowledge of railroads and timetables that were beyond the elk, and turning their instincts against them, nullifying their advantages. In fact, the herd was always able to escape. They could have turned sideways, run alongside the tracks, then crossed once the train had passed. But they didn't. This is exactly what Elk Head Woman does to Lewis, Cass, and Gabe. She manipulates their perceptions and leverages her superior (supernatural) knowledge to lure them into circumstances where they're vulnerable, where their advantages are nullified, where she can kill them safely. She hunts them; and just as when she fell, the hunt puts their entire "herd" in danger.

Then I jumped back to trying to answer why she has this power. I'm not 100% sure I've got this down, but I think it's because the young men were hunting somewhere they weren't supposed to be. When they ambushed the herd, they'd broken the rules. They were stealing. But even that was okay as long as they made restitution by other rules - Denny made them throw back most of the meat, which was fine, and the small amount they took from her was donated to elders, which put them back safely in bounds. Until Gabe empties his dad's freezer and feeds the meat to some dogs. At that point he's stolen twice - once from the herd, once from his dad. Now all bets are off. She's able to come for Lewis first, because he's fled from his guilt; he's left himself exposed. She's able to come for Gabe because he's locked into a pattern of theft and transgression. Nathan's dad is partly protected when he's trying to defend his son, but partly exposed for betraying his people. Nathan's partly protected by his honest engagement with the sweat lodge (I think?) but exposed by his disdain for family and tradition. The bounty hunters are similarly out of place.

Cass, Jo, Peta, and Shaney ... Are harder for me to tell what's going on. I think most of them are collateral damage; just like Elk Head Woman lost her first life when the targets the four young men really wanted were the big bulls. But I'm not sure if there's more themes there I'm just not picking up on.

Ricky definitely dies well before the others, and is killed by something else. His prologue mentions that Lewis has just run off with Peta, while the other chapters talk about him having died some time ago. And Elk Head Woman's first perspective sections talk about how she's just managed to work her way back into the world and go after Lewis. It fits the pattern above too; Ricky stole the hunting weapons from his entire family and ran off with them in a fit of pique. He's made a radically greater transgression, and is suitably punished.

That leaves the question of why Elk Head Woman's behavior changes so dramatically when she tries to hunt Denorah. The answer that fit for me is that Denorah hasn't broken the rules, and isn't a "valid target" - she's not even Gabe's daughter anymore. By hunting her, Elk Head Woman is the one who's transgressing. In that regard, you're all right. Elk Head Woman getting trapped by the boxcar isn't in keeping with the rules she's followed up until that point, so she's lost some of her power and is being pulled back into a different set of rules. That's also why Denny would be able to step in and stop the hunt.
 
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Egarwaen

(He/Him)
Ugh that wasn't finished... There we go.

So one discussion question I wanted to focus on:

2. Everything that happens throughout the novel is possible only because, on some level, the characters believe that it is. Did their culture and upbringing influence that? Discuss what you believe about spirits, the afterlife, and what is possible or impossible. How easy or difficult was it for you to suspend your disbelief?

I don't actually know how much I buy this. Or rather, I think there's some nuance to it. Elk Head Woman uses the characters beliefs, preconceptions, and perspectives to manipulate them, certainly. But she's able to go after people who don't believe in spirits or in proper hunting protocol. Maybe if the characters questioned their reality differently, they wouldn't be vulnerable to this particular manipulation, but I think they'd be vulnerable to others.
 
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John

(he/him)
I agree with those reads. I liked the idea of a supernatural being that just sows paranoia a lot better than a physical manifestation, but that's a lot harder to come up with a satisfying conclusion to than something that a kid can beat in basketball. I didn't put 2 and 2 together with the Elk Meat and the Dogs, I just figured the dogs were killed because they could've warned the humans of her presence.

Elk Head Woman could've been done better as something like IT's Pennywise, where there may be a physical presence, but the majority of the interactions with the humans was psychological torture. The end of The House That Ran Red both worked for me and grossed me out primarily because it wasn't clear if any of this was happening at all.

One other thing I'm not clear on, was Shaney the Elk Head Woman from the beginning, or did the spirit take on her form after Lewis killed her? She was written primarily as someone who just wanted to sleep with Lewis, and wasn't going to let anything get in her way, but I don't remember much foreshadowing to her being an Elk In Costume. In the final section she said that she was Jolene's cousin, but that felt a bit of a retcon move, a little too pat to tie everything together.
 

Egarwaen

(He/Him)
One other thing I'm not clear on, was Shaney the Elk Head Woman from the beginning, or did the spirit take on her form after Lewis killed her? She was written primarily as someone who just wanted to sleep with Lewis, and wasn't going to let anything get in her way, but I don't remember much foreshadowing to her being an Elk In Costume. In the final section she said that she was Jolene's cousin, but that felt a bit of a retcon move, a little too pat to tie everything together.

I'm not sure about this either! Elk Head Woman seems to imply that she managed to find her way back into the world through Peta, and was influencing everyone around him. Though I wouldn't necessarily say Shaney wanted to sleep with Lewis. That's definitely what Lewis thought, but his perceptions aren't reliable. And honestly he's in more than a bit of denial even before things start getting totally out of hand. I felt like it was more that she was looking for companionship, and Lewis read way too much into it... And maybe she was being manipulated too?
 
Until Gabe empties his dad's freezer and feeds the meat to some dogs. At that point he's stolen twice - once from the herd, once from his dad. Now all bets are off.
Hmm! I didn't think about this aspect of it.

Ricky definitely dies well before the others, and is killed by something else. His prologue mentions that Lewis has just run off with Peta, while the other chapters talk about him having died some time ago. And Elk Head Woman's first perspective sections talk about how she's just managed to work her way back into the world and go after Lewis. It fits the pattern above too; Ricky stole the hunting weapons from his entire family and ran off with them in a fit of pique. He's made a radically greater transgression, and is suitably punished.
Got it. Definitely misremembered that.

That leaves the question of why Elk Head Woman's behavior changes so dramatically when she tries to hunt Denorah. The answer that fit for me is that Denorah hasn't broken the rules, and isn't a "valid target" - she's not even Gabe's daughter anymore. By hunting her, Elk Head Woman is the one who's transgressing.
Elk Head Woman also promised not to attack Denorah but then did anyway, which could be a parallel for them hunting when forbidden.

So one discussion question I wanted to focus on:

I don't actually know how much I buy this. Or rather, I think there's some nuance to it. Elk Head Woman uses the characters beliefs, preconceptions, and perspectives to manipulate them, certainly. But she's able to go after people who don't believe in spirits or in proper hunting protocol. Maybe if the characters questioned their reality differently, they wouldn't be vulnerable to this particular manipulation, but I think they'd be vulnerable to others.
Yeah, I saw that question and didn't really buy into it. There's too much inconsistency about beliefs across all the characters.
 

John

(he/him)
I'm not sure about this either! Elk Head Woman seems to imply that she managed to find her way back into the world through Peta, and was influencing everyone around him. Though I wouldn't necessarily say Shaney wanted to sleep with Lewis. That's definitely what Lewis thought, but his perceptions aren't reliable. And honestly he's in more than a bit of denial even before things start getting totally out of hand. I felt like it was more that she was looking for companionship, and Lewis read way too much into it... And maybe she was being manipulated too?
I definitely read it as Shaney flirting with Lewis from the start. Teasing him when he was on the phone at work, throwing his phony excuses back at him. "Was calling a guy I know who does electrician stuff on the side." "On the side..." Jumping on the back of his bike so she can throw her arms around and press into him. Even at the end, when Lewis was full on violent paranoia, she sees him looking down her shirt, and she said "All you had to do was ask, yeah?"

These things did start happening in the book after he had the vision of the elk through the ceiling fan, and she did enter his life the very next day as the new girl at work, so it could be that was just how EHW was figuring out how to best get revenge. My personal take is that Shaney was just a human woman who wanted to be around someone she had something in common with, and didn't let something like infidelity stop her. The EHW spirit was just mentally manipulating Lewis, up until he killed Peta. Then, she took the next step and became corporeal by generating the elk calf inside Peta's body.

But why? If the reason for her to exist is just to get revenge, why go corporeal and become an elk calf, besides the literary symbolism of their hunt recreating itself. Lewis was about to hop in front of the train that runs by his house, which would've ended this scene nicely. Did the spirit need some way of physically transporting itself back to the reservation, in time to execute the plan before the 10 year anniversary's over?

The more I think about it, the more the story doesn't hold up to intense scrutiny. It was still interesting, like a Tony Hillerman novel with more gore, but I don't know if it was intended to have all the pieces line up.
 

Egarwaen

(He/Him)
Elk Head Woman also promised not to attack Denorah but then did anyway, which could be a parallel for them hunting when forbidden.

Oh that's a great point! I'd totally forgotten that until you mentioned it. And she agrees to play a game but breaks it off before it finishes, right? So she's broken her own rules twice at that point.

Yeah, I saw that question and didn't really buy into it. There's too much inconsistency about beliefs across all the characters.

I didn't want to totally dismiss it out of hand, because if Graham Jones wrote the questions, I wanted to respect his knowledge of the beliefs and traditions involved, and his reasons for including the question. But I felt like the it was totally out of left field. Going off your other comment that I quoted above, I'd describe it as being less about beliefs than about rules. Like beliefs, rules have a basis, but are structurally arbitrary. Unlike beliefs, by agreeing to a rule you invite retribution if you break it.

I definitely read it as Shaney flirting with Lewis from the start. Teasing him when he was on the phone at work, throwing his phony excuses back at him. "Was calling a guy I know who does electrician stuff on the side." "On the side..." Jumping on the back of his bike so she can throw her arms around and press into him. Even at the end, when Lewis was full on violent paranoia, she sees him looking down her shirt, and she said "All you had to do was ask, yeah?"

These things did start happening in the book after he had the vision of the elk through the ceiling fan, and she did enter his life the very next day as the new girl at work, so it could be that was just how EHW was figuring out how to best get revenge. My personal take is that Shaney was just a human woman who wanted to be around someone she had something in common with, and didn't let something like infidelity stop her. The EHW spirit was just mentally manipulating Lewis, up until he killed Peta. Then, she took the next step and became corporeal by generating the elk calf inside Peta's body.

I didn't pick up on this at all, but I'm thick as a brick when it comes to flirting so that's on me. I was thinking that maybe the sexual aspect of Shaney's actions was a presumption on Lewis' end, but I can see what I was missing now. I still think there's a reason Elk Head Woman is able to assume Shaney's form when she's playing against Denorah, but I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it's that in considering infidelity, Shaney and Lewis are both breaking rules? That doesn't feel right, though.

But why? If the reason for her to exist is just to get revenge, why go corporeal and become an elk calf, besides the literary symbolism of their hunt recreating itself. Lewis was about to hop in front of the train that runs by his house, which would've ended this scene nicely. Did the spirit need some way of physically transporting itself back to the reservation, in time to execute the plan before the 10 year anniversary's over?

The more I think about it, the more the story doesn't hold up to intense scrutiny. It was still interesting, like a Tony Hillerman novel with more gore, but I don't know if it was intended to have all the pieces line up.

I think in her first perspective chapter, Elk Head Woman explains (? hints?) that she only managed to find her way back into the world at all through a remote chance, and that was only because Lewis was extremely vulnerable after a decade of denial and repressed guilt, and she could exploit Peta's (near?) pregnancy to attack him. To extend the hunting metaphor, he's alone, cut off in hostile territory. Going after Gabe and Cass meant she had to have a more solid connection to the world. She couldn't "reach" them from where she was, and they had stronger protections she needed to be able to overcome.
 

Paul le Fou

ShrimpCerealTopangaHusbandIsAMeTooMilkshakeDuck
(He)
I done did the thing!

I didn't think Shaney was ever the Elk Head Woman; the EHW was shown to be able to take different appearances, including such that Gabe confused her for his own daughter. She took Shaney's form for disguise, possibly through some connection she made with Jo by...arranging her murder?

Also, I think Shaney was working there before he saw the Elk in the family room. I don't recall saying it was her first day, just that she was new there; it sounded like people had been talking about them since they were both Indian for a while before that day. As for her flirting, it's possible that her wanting to borrow books was just a pretense for flirting with Lewis, but he was so deep into his paranoia at that point it was hard to take anything that was happening at face value, much less his internal reasoning for it. The motorcycle and shooting baskets definitely felt to me like she was flirting, though, and of course the comment about her shirt.

Jo being under the truck, and staying there for that long for some reason, was I think the single biggest "oh come on" moment for me, among the large pile of coincidences in that sweat lodge massacre. But in general I was willing to suspend a lot of disbelief about exactly how everything worked because it felt like it had kind of a mythological quality to it. A morality tale, a warning to future generations about tribal law and custom and such - I think this is reinforced by the ending, where the book wraps up with an elder recounting the tale to children later on. On the other hand, even if that's what he was going for, it seemed like he kind of wanted it both ways, and to have it work as in-the-moment fear and tension you had to get more on-the-ground than mythology usually allows for. Like, if as a supernatural monster she could simply influence thoughts and perceptions to a degree, done, sure. But if she was actually just walking around putting money into pockets, it ultimately beggars belief. And yet, the book seems to indicate both at different times, or for different things, so it isn't clear and we get a little stuck in-between requiring internal logic/rules for everything to follow, and being satsifactorily exempt from it because magic.

I think in her first perspective chapter, Elk Head Woman explains (? hints?) that she only managed to find her way back into the world at all through a remote chance, and that was only because Lewis was extremely vulnerable after a decade of denial and repressed guilt, and she could exploit Peta's (near?) pregnancy to attack him. To extend the hunting metaphor, he's alone, cut off in hostile territory. Going after Gabe and Cass meant she had to have a more solid connection to the world. She couldn't "reach" them from where she was, and they had stronger protections she needed to be able to overcome.
But where does Ricky fit into that, then? iirc, his escape gets cut off by a whole herd of elk (which is what leads to his getting beaten to death - or did the elk actually trample him, after all?) If EHW wasn't there yet, why did the herd take revenge, and why on only one of them?
 

Egarwaen

(He/Him)
But where does Ricky fit into that, then? iirc, his escape gets cut off by a whole herd of elk (which is what leads to his getting beaten to death - or did the elk actually trample him, after all?) If EHW wasn't there yet, why did the herd take revenge, and why on only one of them?

I vaguely recall her straight-up saying that Ricky got taken care of for her before she could find her way back. He's broken even more rules - he's stolen his entire family's guns and run off with them. I think his prologue is even more ambiguous than even Lewis' segment. Is he hallucinating the whole thing? Is everyone at the bar being manipulated by some supernatural force? We've got no way of knowing.

My guess would be that Ricky's chapter is intended as either a red herring, to misdirect your expectations about the manner of the threat going into Lewis' story, or to show us that there's other supernatural punishments for transgression going around. Or maybe both?
 

Falselogic

Techno-Threadcromancer
(they/them)
For what it is worth I read it as the Elks trampling him. He seemed to have made his escape quite well. Until he ran into the herd.
 

John

(he/him)
Jo being under the truck, and staying there for that long for some reason, was I think the single biggest "oh come on" moment for me, among the large pile of coincidences in that sweat lodge massacre. But in general I was willing to suspend a lot of disbelief about exactly how everything worked because it felt like it had kind of a mythological quality to it.
Outside of Shaney and Denorah, I didn't think the women were fleshed out enough. Peta had some backstory, but ultimately was just someone for Lewis to horrifically dismember. Jolene was such a nobody that I'd forgotten her name both times I've tried to reference her in these comments. They just seemed to be vehicles for the men in the story to feel bad about once they've killed them.
 

Paul le Fou

ShrimpCerealTopangaHusbandIsAMeTooMilkshakeDuck
(He)
Yeah, it definitely has that Male Literature feel. Denorah perhaps being the exception?
 

Egarwaen

(He/Him)
Given how heavily the narrative's anchored by points of view, I wasn't sure whether to pin that on the author or take it as character commentary on Lewis and Cass.
 

Falselogic

Techno-Threadcromancer
(they/them)
The only female character that seems to have some real characterization is Denorah and even then by the end it seems very idealized/mythologized.
 
I go back and forth on if this is really refrigeration. I don't think so because the men are just running in terror, there's no real action taken against the spirit by any of them so the women and dogs deaths aren't being used to drive their characters. But it is still really uncomfortable that just because women happen to be around they're brutally killed, and receive the most gratuitous descriptions of their death. To me the overly detailed deaths of the women (and of course the whole pregnancy thing) are what push it toward the pornographic violence category.
They just seemed to be vehicles for the men in the story to feel bad about once they've killed them.

Yeah, as I think about it more I think it does fall under the usual Women in Refridgerators thing which is too bad.
 

Falselogic

Techno-Threadcromancer
(they/them)
I think I would like to talk more about this:

11. Describe Denorah. Discuss how she ties into what is happening with Elk Head Woman and why she is involved in what happened ten years ago.

Because I am having a hard time figuring it out. The question makes me think that there is more to it than that she is the offspring (the only offspring) of the hunters and so may be "fair" because one of the Elk's offspring was also "fair" in the hunt of ten years ago. Is it her step-dad? Is it that she is in some way the positive mirror to the negative mirror of the EHW? (In a lot of ways if you think about it.)

What do you all think?
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
I can't contribute anything to the discussion, but still want to write a bit about the impression from the first fifth or so. Couldn't really get into the book, and finally stopped yesterday, when the book described how the dog was trampeled to death so excessively. Just too much for me.

The writing style felt cold and distant, which might be based on the genre. The style wasn't bad, but I couldn't even start to really connect to anyone. Everything and everyone felt too much on edge for me. As I said, this might be a genre thing, or the author might just have a style that doesn't work for me.

In any case, I'll try again next month.
 

Egarwaen

(He/Him)
I think I would like to talk more about this:

11. Describe Denorah. Discuss how she ties into what is happening with Elk Head Woman and why she is involved in what happened ten years ago.

Because I am having a hard time figuring it out. The question makes me think that there is more to it than that she is the offspring (the only offspring) of the hunters and so may be "fair" because one of the Elk's offspring was also "fair" in the hunt of ten years ago. Is it her step-dad? Is it that she is in some way the positive mirror to the negative mirror of the EHW? (In a lot of ways if you think about it.)

What do you all think?

It's an interesting question, because we're explicitly told that Denorah's an infant - of course, my first reaction is "she wasn't". But I don't think that's really true.

For starters, one way of looking at the events of ten years ago is that Gabe, with a new kid, is extra motivated to model being a proper caregiver. And the flashback makes quite clear that a big part of that is having an elk. I think that the consequences of Gabe overstepping in pursuit of that are partly responsible for Denorah's at-best-unstable home life - and, as you say, her step-dad being the game warden who caught and punished the four young adults is probably relevant here too. All four of the young men deal with the shame of their punishment in different ways - Lewis runs away with a white vegan girl, Ricky steals his family's guns and goes off to work at a dangerous job in the oil fields, Gabe goes all-in on total irresponsibility, and Cass... Is hard for me to read, but there's definitely some overcompensation there. Gabe's commitment to irresponsibility is so all-consuming that he's constantly trying to pull his daughter into it as well, an influence she mostly rejects despite it having a certain appeal.

I think there's also an aspect of "generational trauma" at work; of the idea that violence and transgression doesn't just affect those involved, but echoes down through families. There's thematic echoes there with the way Graham Jones treats the elk - the herd is what endures, not individuals. The herd remembers, the herd sought safety, the herd learned, the herd made a mistake. Denorah's definitely affected by what her father did, and I'm not sure she even really understands how and why.
 
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