Strange Piece of Paradise

Strange Piece of Paradise

3.0 23
by Terri Jentz

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In the summer of 1977, Terri Jentz and her Yale roommate, Shayna Weiss, make a cross-country bike trip. They pitch a tent in the desert of central Oregon. As they are sleeping, a man in a pickup truck deliberately runs over the tent. He then attacks them with an ax. The horrific crime is reported in newspapers across the country. No one is ever arrested.

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In the summer of 1977, Terri Jentz and her Yale roommate, Shayna Weiss, make a cross-country bike trip. They pitch a tent in the desert of central Oregon. As they are sleeping, a man in a pickup truck deliberately runs over the tent. He then attacks them with an ax. The horrific crime is reported in newspapers across the country. No one is ever arrested. Both women survive, but Shayna suffers from amnesia, while Terri is left alone with memories of the attack. Their friendship is shattered.

Fifteen years later, Terri returns to the small town where she was nearly murdered, on the first of many visits she will make "to solve the crime that would solve me." And she makes an extraordinary discovery: the violence of that night is as present for the community as it is for her. Slowly, her extensive interviews with the townspeople yield a terrifying revelation: many say they know who did it, and he is living freely in their midst. Terri then sets out to discover the truth about the crime and its aftermath, and to come to terms with the wounds that broke her life into a before and an after. Ultimately she finds herself face-to-face with the alleged axman.

Powerful, eloquent, and paced like the most riveting of thrillers, Strange Piece of Paradise is the electrifying account of Terri's investigation into the mystery of her near murder. A startling profile of a psychopath, a sweeping reflection on violence and the myth of American individualism, and a moving record of a brave inner journey from violence to hope, this searing, unforgettable work is certain to be one of the most talked about books of the year.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The author was a Yale student biking cross-country during the summer of 1977 when she and her roommate were attacked by an axe-wielding cowboy while camping in Oregon. Jentz escaped with a gashed arm, while her friend was nearly blinded from head injuries. Fifteen years later, in 1992, Jentz returns to the scene of the attack to repair the psychic wound and attempt to close the case. Dogged in her pursuit of the truth (though largely abandoning the subtitle's promise of introspection), Jentz interviews the witnesses who saw her stumble out of Cline Falls State Park that June night; she scrutinizes police files and discovers the halfhearted investigation of suspects, learning about several horrific killings that took place in Oregon then. Jentz even befriends the former girlfriends of one suspect who becomes frighteningly plausible as the culprit. She finally tracks down the local cowboy known for carving his initials into his axe handle; though he can no longer be prosecuted for the attack, the satisfaction of seeing him convicted for another offense is a bittersweet vindication. While a thorough, forthright detective, screenwriter Jentz tends to meander and includes unnecessary detail. Still, her story is chilling and will enthrall true crime readers. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This book opens 15 years after a horrifyingly brutal assault in which Jentz and a Yale classmate, asleep at an Oregonian campground, were first run over and then attacked by a hatchet-wielding stranger. Jentz first returned to Oregon in 1992 to reclaim the self she lost at 19 and conduct her own investigation into the crime, for which no one was ever prosecuted. Her story is simultaneously riveting and disturbing-not an embellished memoir but a straightforward, chronological account based on notes, crime reports, newspaper accounts, hospital records, lab reports, and the author's own memory of events. Piece by piece and with the help of the suspect's abused former girlfriends and others living in the area at the time, she builds a solid case against her alleged attacker and gains self-confidence and courage, eventually becoming a victims' rights advocate. This eloquent, brilliantly written book addresses random violence in American culture, the justice system, the glorification of those who commit crimes, and the corresponding diminishment of its victims. The pacing and subject matter will keep readers mesmerized throughout the book's nearly 600 pages. An extraordinary story from a gifted writer; strongly recommended for public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/06.]-Lisa Nussbaum, formerly with Dauphin Cty. Lib. Syst., Harrisburg, PA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Attacked while asleep in a tent during a cross-country bicycle trip, the author returned to Oregon years later to investigate the crime and to search for the assailant, who was never apprehended. The June 22, 1977, attack was grisly. A man drove his pickup through the tent, backed over Jentz and her college roommate Shayna, then went after them with an axe. The author, now a screenwriter, did not see the attacker's face, only his oddly neat cowboy attire. Shayna, who sustained a life-threatening head wound, continues to have no memory of the assault. Jentz is relentless in her pursuit of Dirk Duran (a name that, like others in this account, she has changed), a strikingly handsome but volatile young man who lived near the crime scene, a roadside park called Cline Falls. Some local people suspected Duran because of his unstable, abusive behavior, but, for reasons that the author explores, the police did not investigate him closely. Jentz did. With the help of two committed friends, she interviewed many who knew Duran, including co-workers, relatives and women he'd abused. Eventually, she pieced together not only the details of the crime but also Duran's twisted, vicious history. In one striking scene, years after the attack, Jentz goes to watch Duran's trial on another charge. (The statute of limitations had expired in her own case.) He knows she's been on his trail, and their eyes meet. The author is meticulous about detail; she read countless newspaper articles, court and hospital documents; she drove up lonely, remote roads to find people who might provide only a single nail for the edifice she was erecting. But her overlong account should have been substantially trimmed, and thefrequent passages of pop psychology are amateurish. An emotional piece of investigative work, vitiated in places by prolixity and psycho-cliches.
The New York Times Book Review
Imagine that it had been Truman Capote himself who'd been savaged in Holcomb, Kansas, and that he had survived to describe his ordeal. That is the level of command and sinew at work in [Terri Jentz's] writing.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Powerful . . . [Jentz] moves with great skill back and forth between the year of the attack and the years of her investigation.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Strange Piece of Paradise is a breathtaking memoir that deserves enshrinement on the essential books about the American West, worthy of a place beside Norman Mailer's classic account, The Executioner's Song.
[Jentz's] well-crafted story of trying to make sense of lunacy is unforgettable.
Jentz excels in capturing the aftermath of the attack. . . . [She] is a savvy, big-hearted narrator who refuses to rush to judgment. . . . A singular, breathtaking document of devastation, survival, and hard-won hope.
USA Today
In her spellbinding, heartbreaking tale of one random act of carnage, Jentz shows how evil sometimes doesn't have a face but leaves scars both physical and emotional.
The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
This book, a haunting meditation on the attack and Jentz's hunt for her would-be murderer, is like nothing I have ever read. . . . [Strange Piece of Paradise] packs the power of a story that has simmered for twenty years. Jentz's intelligence and felicity with language amp up that power; her detective work delivers real thrills. . . . Gratifying.
Chicago Tribune
[Strange Piece of Paradise] will do more than just captivate us—it will also politicize us, change us, and move us to action.

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Strange Piece of Paradise

Part One
It has sometimes taken me ten years to understand even a little of some important event that happened to me. Oh, I could have given a perfectly factual account of what happened but I didn't know what it meant until I knew the consequences.

A Dangerous Summer's Night
Poised on that twilight edge between life and death, I felt intimately the part of me that was flesh, and I knew also that I was something more.
I came to that insight early on. I was scarcely twenty.

IT WAS 1977, a drought year in the American West, the driest year in recorded history, although history in those parts went back only a hundred years.
Back then, all of America was in a drought. The fever dream of the sixties had simmered down and the country had lost its way. The national mood was dispirited, in recovery from shocks and traumas, pinched by stagnation and inflation. Fatalism shadowed sunny American optimism.
Gas prices had never been higher. But I didn't care. I was riding a bike.
America was hardly past its two hundredth birthday as I was nearing my twentieth. Its bicentennial year called for celebrations to restore a sense of the nation's magic and promise. Out of that came a bicycle trail, the BikeCentennial, forged from coast to coast through America's most spectacular countryside. My college roommate and I were riding the trail on our summer vacation. Encouraged by the 1970s culture to strive for self-discovery, we were hoping that the song of the open road would enlarge life's meaning.
In the Cascades of the Northwest, drought conditions were melting the glaciers left from the last ice age. The mountain passes cleared unusually early in the summer of '77 and allowed us to scale the highest pass. On the seventh day of our journey, we rode up through green rain forest. At the summit, a field of lava, night-black, surrounded us from every direction, as if a devastating fire had burned through only yesterday. Breathing in the air of the heights, we headed down. Trees abruptly appeared again. Only now they were reddish desert trees.
We set up our tent along a river in a small park in a desert of juniper and sage,and bedded down for the night. It was Wednesday, June 22, the summer solstice. As the earth slowly turned in the dark, Americans in one time zone after the next settled in front of their TVs, safe in their living rooms. They watched the CBS Wednesday-night movie, the world television premiere of a dark and unsettling Western, one of those edgy films made in the seventies that reflected the mood of national cynicism. It was a film complete with psychopaths and moral degeneracy, a new American mythology that turned the romantic version of the Old West on its head.
The sound of screeching tires woke me. It was near midnight, and we had just gone to sleep. A stranger deliberately drove over our tent, then attacked us both with an axe. I saw his torso. He was a meticulous cowboy who looked like he had stepped off a movie set.
My great voyage across America ended abruptly there. And that was how I reached young adulthood, with a certain knowledge of life at its farthest edges.
Copyright © 2006 by Terri Jentz

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