cover image Demon Camp: A Soldier’s Exorcism

Demon Camp: A Soldier’s Exorcism

Jennifer Percy. Scribner, $26 (232p) ISBN 978-1-4516-6198-9

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.)