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.