"Camp Damascus" by Chuck Tingle

"Camp Damascus" by Chuck Tingle

Most people know Chuck Tingle as a purveyor of irreverent, surreal, and often satirical erotica, with titles like Angry Man Pounded By The Fear Of His Latent Gayness Over A Dinosaur Transitioning Into A Unicorn, President Domald Loch Ness Tromp Pounds America's Butt, and Pharma Bro Pounded In The Butt By T-Rex Comedian Bill Murky And A Clan Of Triceratops Rappers Trying To Get Their Album Back, among numerous others. He’s also known for concealing his true identity with a sack mask emblazoned with his personal moniker, “Love Is Real.” 

For his latest publishing outing with Tor Nightfire, Camp Damascus, Tingle sets the smut aside for horror, but wholly embraces “Love is Real” as a thematic undercurrent for the work. Told in first person, present-tense prose, the novel centers on Rose Darling, a young Autistic woman who insists she isn’t queer, but we know pretty quickly that isn’t the case, given her clear attraction to her friend Martina. Rose attends Kingdom of the Pine, an evangelistic church that also runs the titular Camp Damascus, a gay conversion retreat with a purported one hundred percent success rate. If that seems an unbelievable boast, that’s because it is, and many other things Rose has taken for granted as absolute truth begin to crumble in her life, especially after she is stalked by a ghastly looking woman in a red polo shirt and khaki pants and she begins coughing up gnarly black flies during spaghetti dinner with her parents. These strange occurrences send Rose on a journey of truth-seeking and self-discovery — a journey that also puts her in direct conflict with the church and its homophobic teachings. 

Tingle is just especially good at what he does, be it erotica or horror...

It’s an easy statement to make — and one that has been made already in other reviews — that Camp Damascus is a departure for Tingle. And sure, we’re not dealing with sentient, anthropomorphized objects getting people off here. But there’s a sense among some critics (devils, as Tingle might call them) that the quality of writing on display in this non-erotic novel is surprising, given what the author typically writes. This notion of course suggests that Tingle’s other writings are somehow lesser-than simply because they trade in absurdism and sex. And of course, this is nonsense in and of itself, but it’s particularly nonsensical considering the pedestal-placing of Damascus above his previous works because they are in fact cut from the same cloth. Tingle is just especially good at what he does, be it erotica or horror, both of which he takes beyond their typical genre trappings to tell uplifting stories of the human experience. 

Concerning Damascus specifically, while there are certainly visceral moments of terror throughout the text, Tingle does not focus on nihilism and despair. This is every bit a novel about queer joy as it is one that explores the evils perpetrated by Christian churches — and even in this latter case, Tingle is quick to lambaste only those who have a skewed interpretation of Jesus’s teachings. In other words, it isn’t Christianity itself that poses a problem, but rather those who have bastardized and stretched it to conform to their own wrongheaded viewpoints, like the idea gayness is something that can be “cured.” 

Despite the heaviness of the novel’s subject matter, Camp Damascus is overall a fun work. Some might even call it a “beach read,” given its fast-paced, almost action-like plot. It’s chilling at times, hilarious at others (Tingle can’t put that sense of humor aside), and altogether joyful. It’s great to see an author spreading his wings and so wonderfully succeeding. Perhaps we’ll get a queer sci-fi adventure from Tingle next. 

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