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Review: Camp Damascus Is A Terrifying But Hopeful Tale Of Religious Extremism Vs. Love

'Camp Damascus' Is A Terrifying, Hopeful Tale Of Religious Extremism

Chuck Tingle and Camp Damascus cover
Courtesy of Tor

Tingle crafts a narrative that is haunting and frighteningly timely in this year’s must-read queer horror novel.

We’d like to imagine that we live in a society that fully recognizes the horror of gay conversion camps. The very idea is so abstract, so wrong, so awful, that it’s hard to fully comprehend. However, to this very day leading members of the Conservative movement, along with leaders in religious communities, continue calling for curtailing the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. The Supreme Court of the United States just made it legal for businesses to not serve queer people. Ron DeSantis is touting in national ad campaigns how he is at war with queer people and how others need to get behind him. So the horror at the heart of Chuck Tingle’s powerful and bone-chilling Camp Damascus is both very real and very timely.

In his novel, Tingle puts us in the shoes of 20-year-old Rose Darling, a woman living in a remote Montana town under the harsh tenets of an extreme Christian sect, with overprotective (to say the least) parents, and in the shadow of Camp Damascus, the sect’s nationally recognized gay conversion camp that touts a 100 percent success rate.

As Rose begins to discover her true identity and heart, strange and horrifying phenomena begin to occur involving insects and a monstrous presence lurking nearby. As the story progresses, more of the history of our protagonist, the town, and the sect are revealed.

While Tingle is perhaps best known for his universe of erotic “Tinglers”, Camp Damascus was this reader’s first foray into his writing — and it was breathtaking. I truly could not put it down.

Not only does Tingle write beautifully and craft a compelling narrative, but both the supernatural and all-too-real horrors of this novel cannot be understated. I devoured it practically in one sitting, setting it aside just briefly to walk around the room, only to sit back down and pick it back up because I simply couldn’t stop reading.

This is the kind of horror literature that is both timeless and yet perfectly descriptive of the sad state of the world today for LGBTQ+ people. And yet, there’s no shortage of hope as well. As with his Tinglers, Tingle takes great care to support his readers, deftly avoiding the kind of exploitative content that could easily activate (or reactive) their traumas. Tingle has consistently professed that his work is just as much about proving the power of love as it is about entertaining and weaving a tale for his readers. With Camp Damascus, he successfully does both.

To say that a conversion camp horror story is ultimately uplifting and affirming for queer and straight readers alike feels like an impossibility, but in Tingle’s hands it proves to be just that.

Do not skip this book.

Camp Damascus is available now in bookstores (and on audiobook) everywhere.

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Derry Paver