“They’ll scare you straight to hell.”
Chuck Tingle’s new novel, Camp Damascus, successfully delves into multiple layers of horror, creating a story that touches on many layers of the human experience. Religious trauma can be a powerful force in one’s life. Those who have suffered religious trauma, which comes in many different forms and experiences, have to go through the process of being deprogrammed. They have their lives dismantled and made anew. It is painful and scary, often shaking the foundation on which one lays their identity.
This idea of shaken identity is one of the many reasons Chuck Tingle’s new novel, Camp Damascus, is so powerful. Yes, superficially, there are some terrifying scenes. But the book is so much more. Quite a bit is under the surface of “Neverton, Montana: home to a God-fearing community with a heart of gold.” Demons and coughing up flies are scary, but what is horrific is the religious dogma associated with the camp and Rose’s life. The idea that someone who believes is always and entirely right because of faith is dangerous. This story will be quite poignant for those who have suffered under religious fervor. However, the ideas represented in the story will appeal to anyone with a heart.
“Slowly disconnecting from your community—from your family—is difficult, and while it seems like unearthing their sinister motives and dark secrets might make the process easier, it will never entirely quell the pain. I’ve been avoiding this dark ache by keeping my mind busy while my body couldn’t be, but it hasn’t gone away. The sadness is still there, lurking in the corner like a pale demon in a red polo, just waiting to finally be acknowledged. That acknowledgment could arrive after several decades, or it could happen tonight, but the time will come. Eventually, I’ll have to fully contend with this simple fact: the love I was promised is conditional.”
Camp Damascus is the story of Rose and her life as a member of an evangelical cult/megachurch in Neverton. This church runs a gay conversion camp that has a 100% rate. But why and how can a place have a 100% rate? Nothing is 100% when dealing with human feelings and emotions, especially something as important as identity and attraction.
Rose, we learn, is neuro-divergent and has never been interested in the opposite sex. As a side note, The neurodivergent thought processes of Rose are excellent. I love how Tingle has written her and how she processes information. As Rose discovers more about herself, she sees creatures lurking at the edges of her vision or in the background. These creatures inflict fear, and then Rose starts to cough up flies. Despite the supposed god-fearing atmosphere, something sinister is in Neverton, but what is it? That is where I must stop, as this story has mystery as one of its driving forces.
The pacing was a challenge for me personally, only in that I have a difficult time with slow burns. And this novel is a relatively slow burn, and rightfully so. Rose has a lot of inner struggles to go through, and this isn’t a simple trope already known to readers. Paying attention to all the details was rewarding, essential, and pays off. As the story rolls on toward the end, it gets more exciting.
In Camp Damascus, The Tingler’s message always comes through; Love is Real. Camp Damascus is engaging, intriguing, and a very “Chuck Tingle” novel where Chuck’s message is always there. Love is real.
Pick up this book. Support Chuck, support love.