Review – Tribal Screams by Owl Goingback

There are a number of short stories gathered in this horror collection, and they cover a wide range of subject matter. Like the best horror stories, they offer a mix of catalysts, problems and outcomes, and they are all distinct and captivating. Whether you’re reading about a young man who is doing something foolish in his attempts to join a fraternity or a medicine man desperate to help his people, you’ll see how the deck is stacked against even the most favorable protagonists, leading to outcomes that are at times unexpected and at other times unfavorable. That’s part of the beauty of reading books in a collection; you can never get too comfortable, because nobody is safe, and the reader soon knows it. It also gives you a chance to appreciate one story referencing events in another story that appeared earlier in the collection. The threads that tie these tales together are at times obvious and at other times subtle.

If I were to sum this collection up with a theme, it would be about belonging. Matt is desperate to join that fraternity. Desperate enough to agree to spend the night alone in one of the most haunted places he’s ever been to. Others, like the medicine man in ‘Animal Sounds’, do belong, and their commitment to their people prompts them to risk their life to save everyone else. Then there is the pretendian in ‘Gator Bait’, who is scamming audiences night after night with his claim that he is Indigenous and that he is a great alligator wrestler. And much as Ferdnando lays claim to the land and all that is in it, can ever truly belong the way that Indigenous woman Tacachale does? ‘The Bride’ also touches on belonging; our desire to belong to another, and what someone—or something—might do if another person comes between us and the one we desire.

Tribal Screams also exemplifies some of the best reasons to read authors from different cultures than your own. As referenced already, there are stories with pretendians who try to claim Indigenous ancestry they do not possess, and are taught a lesson for their disrespect. Tribal Screams offers stories of European settlers and the destruction they brought with them to Turtle Island, and how their own greed sometimes led to their downfall. There are stories of Indigenous people captured and enslaved, who try to find a way to escape. 

In a collection with so many great stories, there were a couple that personally stood out to me. One was ‘Ashes’. A person who is down on their luck, who has lost their way and who does something horrific in their desperation. And no matter how bad you think the consequences for their actions might be, they are infinitely worse. There are fates worse than death, as Richard discovered.

The other stand out is Nebula Award-nominated short story ‘Grass Dancer’. The story is about a young man drafted to fight in Vietnam and the disabled brother he leaves behind. It is that perfect mix of tragedy and miracle, of hope and despair, and it brought tears to my eyes.

Tribal Screams also includes the first four chapters of Coyote Rage, the first in a new series of books by Owl Goingback, guaranteed to send you back to the bookstore to buy a copy as soon as you can.

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