- The Faster Redder Road: The Best UnAmerican Stories of Stephen Graham Jones ed. by Theodore C. Van Alst Jr.
Whenever I read Stephen Graham Jones’s work, I experience two simultaneous realizations. The first is that I am very glad I don’t live inside his head, where the demons and killers populating so many of his stories lurk and loom. The second is that I am extremely grateful that he does, dwelling in and mining those dark places to craft such well-wrought stories and heartbreakingly human characters (even the ones who aren’t technically humans).
The Faster Redder Road brings together a wide array of Jones’s previously published work in a single lengthy collection. The book serves as an outstanding introduction or supplement to this incredibly prolific author’s writing, from very short stories (a page or two) to longer ones and to excerpts from novels. Reflecting his work’s breadth, the selections range from his usual horror, slasher, and zombie as well as “love stories to scifi, games and gaming, noir voice, and ya” and “work that makes the shelves for folks in Native Lit” (xvi). While novels including The Bird Is Gone, The Fast Red Road, and Ledfeather—the first two excerpted in this collection—have garnered a fair amount of academic attention in studies of Native American literature (Jones is a Blackfeet), his genre fiction is often overlooked there. Van Alst dedicates a long endnote (very clearly inspired by Jones’s masterful Demon Theory, also excerpted in the collection) to this point, explaining that “finally, finally, when I read these stories, unless I’m told otherwise, all of the characters are Indian” (xiv). If readers take this approach, assuming Indigeneity rather than settler subjectivities, they will encounter a diversity of Native characters absent in most of American literature.
One needn’t read Jones’s characters as Native, however, to understand these selections or to relate to them. Perhaps his greatest gift is his ability to make readers feel they are right there in the story. We find ourselves mimicking every unconscious facial contortion, including one that recurs throughout his oeuvre: people pushing out their lower lip with their tongue. (Did you just do it?) In fact, this collection is thorough enough that we begin to notice several of Jones’s ticks, sentences that begin, “What I was doing [End Page 120] was” and those that end with “yeah.” We pick up very quickly on the preponderance of narratives set in West Texas, on the highways of the West and Southwest, and at truck stops, drive-ins, and the liminal roadside spots that go with them. Reading The Faster Redder Road pulls us into those spaces.
That pull, the intimacy this collection (and Jones’s writing generally) offers is bolstered by the inclusion of short, usually one-paragraph blurbs, written by Jones, that follow each story and provide insight into its various elements, especially into the events, homages, style, and subject experimentations that inspired them. My favorite is the one following “The Wages”: “I should stop pretending this one’s fiction” (36).
Because Jones is so prolific and his work so diverse, a compilation like this one is particularly welcome and useful, serving, in the words of the introduction, as “a selection, a collection, a primer on” Jones’s considerable body of writing (xiii). As such, it is valuable for those looking for a place to begin as well as for those who have read some (or even a great deal) of his work but are looking for more. Van Alst’s introduction foregrounds and contextualizes Jones’s writing (particularly, in the endnote, in terms of Native American literature) and does so with an almost fanboy-like joy. That isn’t meant to sound like a critique. Why would anyone compile a collection of work they didn’t love? Why would anyone else want to read it?