Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Percy first encountered Army veteran Caleb Daniels while tracking the story of returning Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers who were suffering from Post Traumatic Disorder. Her conversations with the former Special Ops machine gunner convinced her to visit him at a Christian camp where he and others participate in formal exorcisms of their personal demons. Told without sensationalism or condescension, Demon Camp takes us inside the lives of veterans fighting battles from wars the rest of us have left behind.
Demon Camp: A Soldier's Exorcismby Jennifer Percy
In 2005 a Chinook helicopter carrying sixteen Special Ops soldiers crashed during a rescue mission in a remote part of Afghanistan, killing everyone on board. In that instant, machine gunner Caleb Daniels lost his best friend, Kip Jacoby, and seven members of his unit. Back in the U.S., Caleb begins to see them everywhere-dead Kip, with his Alice in Wonderland tattoos, and the rest of them, their burned bodies watching him. But there is something else haunting Caleb, too-a presence he calls the Black Thing, or the Destroyer, a paralyzing horror that Caleb comes to believe is a demon. Alone with these apparitions, Caleb considers killing himself. There is an epidemic of suicide among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, men and women with post-traumatic stress disorder who cannot cope with ordinary life in the aftermath of explosions and carnage. Jennifer Percy finds herself drawn to their stories, wanting to comprehend their experiences and pain. Her subject, Caleb, has been bringing damaged veterans to a Christian exorcism camp in Georgia that promises them deliverance from the war. As Percy spends time with these soldiers and exorcists and their followers-finding their beliefs both repel�lant and magnetic-she enters a world of fanaticism that is alternately terrifying and welcoming. With a jagged lyricism reminiscent of Michael Herr and Denis Johnson, Demon Camp is the riveting true story of a veteran with PTSD and an explora�tion of the battles soldiers face after the war is over. Percy's riveting account forces us to gaze upon the true human consequences of the War on Terror.
Tropes surrounding veterans in the public discourse—invincible warriors, heroic patriots—mask the reality of warfare, but Percy peels back the gauze, revealing deeply wounded individuals. Having enlisted to escape hometown oppression or untenably low positions on the socioeconomic ladder, veterans return haunted by the violence they’ve endured. Caleb, Percy’s primary subject, is besieged by apparitions after his closest friend dies in a helicopter crash, and comes to rely on his hallucinations to get him through the day. An army psychologist explains that sufferers of PTSD will relive their trauma “again and again until the mind is able to assimilate and process the event,” experiencing a world of demons more real than physical objects. Caleb and other veterans are drawn to tiny Portal, Ga., where a self-taught pastor engages in “spiritual warfare,” claiming he stopped counting the number of exorcisms he’s performed after 5,000. Percy becomes part of the life of the church, where the veterans and the true believers maintain a measure of distance, treating each other with a mutual wariness. Her sharp, unadorned writing captures the rawness of the congregants’ lives, the permeability of the borderline between reality and imagination —her own exorcism proving to her “how easily, how intrusively, a heightened situation can make us, any of us, slip.” (Jan.)
Percy's debut nonfiction work explores the cost of the War on Terror for the soldiers who make it home. Caleb Daniels is a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) brought on by the loss of his best friend and many others in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. He struggles with suicidal thoughts and often sees his dead friends nearby, watching him. Additionally, he experiences a malevolent presence he comes to believe is a demon and becomes involved with a religious exorcism group that offers "deliverance" from those demons. Percy digs deep into the sobering truth of the lengths to which soldiers with PTSD will go to alleviate their condition. Detailed accounts about the War on Terror and soldier suicide could be intense for some listeners. Narrator Kristen Potter does a fantastic job of bringing this world to life. VERDICT Best for fans of war-related nonfiction.—Sean Kennedy, Cleveland Marshall Coll. Law Lib.
A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop turns her sights on the dark story of a soldier with PTSD who is haunted by his demons. This odd blend of nonfiction, meditation, new journalism and self-expression by debut author Percy wants to be so many things that it becomes difficult to sort it all out. For such a gothic tale of horror, it starts sparingly. In a parking lot in woodsy Georgia, the author met a young man named Caleb Daniels, a traumatized veteran of the war in Afghanistan. As the young writer unraveled the soldier's tale, she learned that Caleb's illness manifests itself as an actual demon that he alone can see, a beast he calls "The Black Thing." For Percy, it becomes a way into a culture that she can never fully understand. "In primitive cultures, if one is sick, it has to be a demon, and finding the one who cursed you is halfway to the cure," she writes. "Does the exorcist ever require an exorcism? People see post-traumatic stress as a problem specifically of war, but it's also a problem of our culture. A physical reaction is a sign of societal malaise. Their demons, and America's demons." The author became increasingly embroiled in the story of Caleb and a remote Christian camp where he and other veterans swore of liberation from demons like "the Ruling Level Demon of Antichrist," as well as the dangled promise of salvation. The book suffers from its lack of perspective and straight-ahead reportage--names and details have been changed--but the story goes way over the top when Percy decided that she was suffering from the same conditions as Caleb. "I see the bat in the dark and the bat says suicide and the bat rapes me. But those are just the dreams," she writes. Percy wields language with admirable restraint, but her poetic gifts might be better served in fiction.
- Tantor Media, Inc.
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- Library - Unabridged CD
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- 6.70(w) x 6.40(h) x 0.90(d)
Meet the Author
Jennifer Percy is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she was a Capote Fellow and the recipient of an Iowa Arts fellowship from the Nonfiction Writing Program. Her honors also include a Pushcart Prize and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Actress Kirsten Potter has performed on stage, film, and television, including roles on Medium, Bones, and Judging Amy. Her narrations have won AudioFile Earphones Awards, and she earned an Audie nomination for her reading of Rise Again by Ben Tripp.
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It is amazing what an affliction such as PTSD forces a person to do, let alone get help. As far as the "camp" helping people, it is to be determined; a sad trailer park story at times.