‘Demon Camp’: hounded by the dead and the devils of war
Jennifer Percy’s nonfiction book “Demon Camp” follows the effect of service in Afghanistan on one vet who believes both demons and spirits of the dead haunt him. Percy discusses her book 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co.
Special to The Seattle Times
Jennifer Percy will discuss “Demon Camp” in conversation with author David James Poissant at 7 p.m. Wednesday Feb. 26 at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave. Free (206-624-6600; elliottbaybook.com).
‘Demon Camp: A Soldier’s Exorcism’”
by Jennifer Percy
Scribner, 223 pp., $26
Samuel Coleridge was writing about poetry when he discussed the “willing suspension of disbelief,” but it comes in handy when reading “Demon Camp,” a work of nonfiction by Jennifer Percy.
It’s the story of a soldier and the demons that followed him home from the war in Afghanistan. Not demons in the metaphorical sense, a euphemism for PTSD. But real demons, in the solder’s view. The Destroyer, to name one.
And some of the soldier’s dead comrades came along, too. Especially his best friend, who was one of 16 fallen comrades blown up and burnt in a Chinook helicopter sent to rescue four SEALs on a mission to capture or kill a Taliban leader (also the subject of the movie and book “Lone Survivor”). Caleb, the returning soldier, feels guilty about being ordered off that mission and surviving.
“Demon Camp” is also the story of how to get rid of THE demons and war dead that follow Caleb around reminding him he should save vets from killing themselves. And Percy isn’t talking about a trip to the VA to treat PTSD. This is a book about exorcising demons, a process the spiritual healers seeing after Caleb call “deliverance,” which entails lots of praying, strange ceremonies and hanging out in tiny Portal, Georgia, with a woman who calls herself the son of Jesus.
A clinical study of exorcism? Not really. Once Percy, a magazine writer and Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate, takes it on herself to go through deliverance and then starts talking about large bats enveloping her, either all objectivity has been lost or the reader can take this as proof of the existence of demons and the need for spiritual warfare against them.
It’s hard to tell which, but one thing is believable about the book: War is not a good thing for those who do the fighting, whether the damage comes from for-real demons or from a neurological cause.
Percy’s point isn’t whether the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq (Caleb served in both places) were just, right, wrong or a waste directed by misguided policy. Her mission is to show the damage done, and she finds plenty of that in recounting other veterans’ suicides, drug abuse, divorces and generally wrecked lives and the extremes taken to shake off the demons.
Her sometime aversion to verbs, love of sentence fragments and weird juxtapositions of barely related sentences make some of her well-conceived metaphors seem out of place in a book that comes together as a strange brew of “Naked Lunch” without the sex, “The Exorcist” without the head twisting and “Ghostbusters” without the humor.
Strange book. Odd writing. Not a must read.
John B. Saul is a Seattle Times editor who has taught journalism and nonfiction writing at the University of Montana and the University of Washington.