Bookshots: 'Demon Camp' by Jennifer Percy
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Who wrote it?
Jennifer Percy is a Pushcart Prize and NEA Grant winner whose work has appeared in Harper’s and The New Republic.
Plot in a Box:
A reporter explores small communities in the South where soldiers are delivered from their haunting demons of war.
Invent a new title for this book
…And Into the Fire
Read this if you liked:
Jar Head by Anthony Swofford, Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden, Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien
Meet the book’s lead:
Jennifer Percy interviews Afghanistan veteran Caleb Daniels, who believes he's fighting a spiritual war against the demons of the war in Afghanistan.
Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:
Woody Harrelson, as grizzled as he can get.
Setting: Would you want to live there?
No. What’s incredible about this book is that while it sounds like fiction, it’s not. These people believe they are haunted by demons. They see them everywhere they go. Would you want to live there? I mean, seriously? Even if it was Tahiti? Plus, they live in a small town in the less than pretty part of Georgia (which has many pretty parts but those parts this part is not), so…
What was your favorite sentence?
Jennifer Percy is so good sometimes, she deserves a couple, so indulge me:
…from which they dropped the Special Forces recon team down the woven nylon ropes deployed on either side, letting them slip to the ground quiet as raindrops down leafstalks.
His eyeballs move beneath closed lids like things turning over in the womb.
Demon Camp is […] “a place in South Georgia where the layer between heaven and earth is very thin,” and Sergeant Caleb Daniels traveled there to get rid of The Black Thing. “It’s called deliverance,” he said. “It works wonders.”’
His story is a must-read for all of us. It’s vital to our understanding that the demons of war will not, whatever the treatment, retreat. And ultimately, the book’s tag line “A Soldier’s Exorcism” is ironic (I’m not giving anything away because this isn’t that kind of book), because the main character, and anyone suffering from this kind of trauma, cannot in the end be completely exorcized.
As Percy says, “Then I knew that God was just a word he used to talk about other things [...] George W. Bush borrowed the vocabulary of religion for his war. Now Caleb borrows the vocabulary of war for his religion.” Which is the crux of the book. This is not a "war-book" in the traditional sense. Not much of the book takes place anywhere but right here on American soil, after the war, where a new war is being fought against PTSD—what these characters believe to be Demons. But Percy walks a fine line between both of these interpretations, respectful yet critical, concerning herself less with the vocabulary used to describe the trauma and more with the trauma and its manifestations. “Physical pain is corporeal and so wounds feel like evidence… If the existence of pain is always, if possible, confirmed through the flesh, then the pain of the mind—psychic pain, tragic pain, the pain of broken hearts—must also desire such confirmation.” Ultimately, this book is a moving piece of literature, moving us to acknowledge the seeming inevitability of PTSD; there's a realization that, call it Demons or call it PTSD, this thing has been haunting us and will continue to haunt us as a nation, immune to its exorcism as long as we practice faith in war.
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