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Strange Piece of Paradise
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Strange Piece of Paradise

3.1 24
by Terri Jentz

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In the summer of 1977, Terri Jentz and her Yale roommate took a cross-country bike trip. As they lay sleeping in the central Oregon desert, a man in a pickup truck deliberately ran over their tent and proceeded to attack them with an axe. The horrific crime was reported in newspapers across the country, but no one was ever arrested. Fifteen years later, Jentz


In the summer of 1977, Terri Jentz and her Yale roommate took a cross-country bike trip. As they lay sleeping in the central Oregon desert, a man in a pickup truck deliberately ran over their tent and proceeded to attack them with an axe. The horrific crime was reported in newspapers across the country, but no one was ever arrested. Fifteen years later, Jentz returns to the small town where she was nearly murdered and makes an extraordinary discovery: the violence of that night is as present for the community as it is for her. Shockingly, many say they know who did it, and he is living freely in their midst.

Powerful, eloquent, and paced like the most riveting of thrillers, Strange Piece of Paradise is a startling profile of a psychopath, a sweeping reflection on violence and the myth of American individualism, and a moving record of Jentz's brave inner journey from violence to hope.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“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.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Powerful . . . [Jentz] moves with great skill back and forth between the year of the attack and the years of her investigation.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

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.” —Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“[Jentz's] well-crafted story of trying to make sense of lunacy is unforgettable.” —People

“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.” —Newsday

“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.” —USA Today

“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.” —The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

“The pacing and subject matter will keep readers mesmerized throughout. . . . An extraordinary story from a gifted writer.” —Library Journal

“[Strange Piece of Paradise] will do more than just captivate us--it will also politicize us, change us, and move us to action.” —Chicago Tribune

"Creepy, compelling, hard to put down…" That's how our editors describe Strange Piece of Paradise, Terri Jentz's powerful account of the savage 1977 assault that derailed her life and started her on a long journey back to the past to find peace of mind. Severely injured by an axe-wielding stranger in the Oregon desert, Jentz found herself, 15 years later, "stuck" in time, unable to move forward and haunted by recurring dreams that finally compelled her to return to the scene of the unsolved crime. Expertly researched and beautifully described, this mesmerizing mix of memoir and true crime is as riveting as any James Patterson thriller.
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.

Product Details

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First Edition
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5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.64(d)

Read an Excerpt

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

Meet the Author

Terri Jentz is a screenwriter and lives in Los Angeles. Strange Piece of Paradise is her first book.

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Strange Piece of Paradise 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Being from the area and living there when this happened, I felt compelled to read this book. Thank you Terri for writing this book so we finally know what really happened, so many years later. It was minimally covered by the media for reasons previously unknown, or maybe I should say unspoken. This is one book that had my complete attention (and how) all the while I was reading it..and beyond.
Jane_V_Blanchard 6 months ago
The official title is Strange Piece of Paradise: A Return to the American West To Investigate My Attempted Murder - and Solve the Riddle of Myself. Though the attack was atrocious, I found reading Ms. Jentz account of her search to find out who attacked her and why a very painful read. It is too long and extremely repetitive. I got bored with her detailing each step she undertook to find out who nearly killed her and her friend. Though it may have been cathartic for her to write the book, it was grueling for me to read it. In fairness, I do not usually read true crime books. Perhaps someone who enjoys the genre would enjoy this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read pages 60 to 200, everything else is a waste of time.
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TrueCrimeMuskie More than 1 year ago
This book is one of the most boring I have ever read. I made myself finish it simply because I do not like to leave things unfinished, yet getting to the end was nothing short of torture. Jentz comes off as arrogant and whiney. Skip this for your own good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Where was the editor for this book?!? I couldn't get through it...I was bored to death and highly frustrated with the repetition. And it's almost as if the author tried too hard with her descriptions. I don't need two or three adjectives before every noun. I was excited to read this book, thinking it was going to be good. What a disappointment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
...because it was boring, repetative, uninteresting, disappointing. I thought this book would be a good read since it was written by a victim of crime. In reality it seemed to just be her alternative to physchological help after the fact. I had to put it away after getting through maybe one-fourth of the book. It appears, to me, that the author just figured she'd give it a try and hope for the best. Unfortunately she probably made a ton of money off of a poorly written and unsubstantial piece of work and I'm sorry that I was a contributor!
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief.' ~William Shakespeare, Hamlet 'If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind, give it more thought.' ~Dennis Roth My point? This book is about two hundred pages too long. Ms. Jentz's story is fascinating but could really use some editing. What bothered me most about this book is that you suffer through more than 500 pages only to find out that their is no resolution. She never really find out who tried to kill her. She has a pretty good idea, but as far as I can tell, this idea is based on a lot of heresy and small town gossip. If you like concise true crime writing without a lot of rambling over every minute thought and detail, check out the book A Rip in Heaven by Jeanine Cummings. It's an amazing tale of courage and self discovery, not self-absorption.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a difficult book to review. It was three books in one. As a true crime story, following a twisting and turning path to solving a mystery, it was excellent, a four or a five star. As a writing example, while extremely well written, it was verbose. It reminded me of The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn, a book of unraveling a mystery which could have been handled in far fewer pages. Ms. Jentz's style seemed to use twenty words where five would do, and to describe over and over the same subject. For that effort, the book earns a three. As a political tome, while cursading on social issues is fine 'we all have our agendas', her portrayal of all abusers being men and all abuse victims being women is simplistic and erroneous. In her situation her suspect was an abuser of people and she even presents some examples. But she still concludes that it is the women who need protecting and the men who need punishment. For that she gets a one. Add the stars up and you get the rating above. The problem with this work, excluding its length, is that it turns from being a search for discovery into a sexist crusade against all men. Too bad. No one can argue against punishing the male abuser, or the female abuser, but in this work the female abuser does not exist. A couple hundred less pages, and a more even handed dealing with the the subject of people harming others, would have improved this work and raised the rating.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've never been pulled into a book ever as much as I have Strange Piece of Paradise and so surprised by my reaction to it. It actually made me so anxious, I had to put the book down for a while so that my breathing would return to a normal rythym. It made me cry, gave me goose bumps and I actually felt as though I was in the park when the girls were being rescued. Exceptional writing on the Author's part and I think it would make a great movie although I think it would be unbearable for the victims. Thanks for such great reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I seemed to be reading this book forever. I got this book through the library unfortunately I didn't finish it before it was due. It should have been shorter anyhow. Terri, you and your friend were lucky to survive. I really don't think you should have written this book, and I don't think Farrar should have published it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was so disappointed when I started to read this book. Notice that I said started, I couldn't finish this book. It was as if the writer had a word of the day calendar and a 10,000 word essay to write, hense, the repeating. When I bought the book it sounded so interesting, I couldn't wait. When I started to read the book, it felt like I read about 2 chapters, but it was 2 pages. The print is so tiny and not much for margins, they could have cut this book in half and not missed a beat. It was the only book I took on vacation. I ended giving it to someone I didn't know & bought a different one. (Sorry ....to the stranger I gave it to.)
Guest More than 1 year ago
I highly anticipated reading this book. It was a big disappointment. I read about half of the book before I just couldn't stand reading any more. Even at the half-way point, I had already read three times how Walter Cronkite highlighted her crime on his news show. And how many times by then had I read about the nature of the crime? Someone needed to edit her book to make it cleaner and to the point. It could have been such a riveting read, but it turned out to be boring and unfinishable. I lost all interest.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think it took a lot of courage for Terri to go back to Redmond and confront her terrors, search for her attacker, and finally confront possible suspects. However, this book needed some serious editing. Half way through it, I simply lost interest and began to skim through the rest. Finally, I just read the last couple of chapters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having lived in the area where the attacks took place most of my life, I purchased and read this book with great anticipation. I also believe that she bogged down in details. I truly admire her research and her determination to get at the truth. I knew many of the people she talked with and described. Good job there. I can say that this event did indeed change the lives of the people who lived here during that time. Especially the young women. I thought that the book was fairly well written and that no one else could tell the story with the passion and determination that she did. I found very few errors in the descriptions of places, etc. Just felt the book was a little long and wordy.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I haven¿t read a book as absorbing, as compelling as ¿A Strange Piece of Paradise¿ for a long time. It¿s a marvellously gratifying read. The book originates in the brutal 1976 attack on the author and her Yale roommate in eastern Oregon while on a cross-country bike trip. Both women suffered severe and lasting injuries. The spellbinding nature of ¿Strange Piece of Paradise¿ is that it engages the reader on three levels: First is the page-turning saga of Jentz¿s detective work two decades after the event tracking down the would-be ax murderer who had never been caught (another fascinating part of the story). How, you might ask, can this be a page-turner after the media has revealed the actual person Jentz ultimately identifies as the perpetrator? That¿s what surprised me most about the book: the suspense that builds around the evidence Jentz collects to finger her attacker. As I ripped through the pages I found myself in a dialogue with the writer: Why should I take the testimony of this interviewee as credible? Can it be backed up independently? Who is telling the truth, who is exaggerating, who is recovering false memories? Whose evidence can be authenticated, whose clue will lead to the main artery of discovery? Second is the brilliant depiction of the archeology of the old West superimposed on the new West, particularly the collectively expressed mores of the community in the face of an horrendous event the response to violent individuals in its midst the not so subtle tolerance of domestic violence. For me some of the most riveting writing describes how Jentz negotiates the fault lines in this rural western community, discovering allies and hospitality where one would hardly have expected it, and invoking the courage to confront hostility that sometimes surprises. The portraits of place and people are cinematically luminous. The scent of pinõn wafts through the pages, panoramic vistas fill the mind¿s eye, fine details of dress and demeanor give vivid life to the characters ¿ and I mean characters ¿ who fill the book. Finally, there is the ultimately cathartic healing voyage Jentz makes from wounded psyche ¿ disempowered, tethered by unrecognized fears, cocooned will ¿ to unshackled, triumphant sense of self as she takes on the forbidding task of confronting her inner demons through accosting the real life phenomenon of evil. The unfolding of this journey could satisfy as a book by itself. I cannot recommend ¿A Strange Piece of Paradise¿ too highly. I myself have bought several copies as gifts for friends who enjoy a great story, felicitous prose, and curiosity about the intricacies and complexity of the human spirit.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book really intrigued me, and I greatly admire Terri Jentz for having the courage to delve so deeply into what was obviously a very painful undertaking. Unfortunately, I got bogged down in the repetitive detail and ended up skimming through the last half. Terri is an incredible woman and I wish her all the best.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a nearly wonderful book, IF it weren't so long. There is a lot of superfluous geographic description. How many times do we have to read about the juniper trees. Ms Jentz wants to set the atmosphere of the area in which her attack took place, as well she should. But she has overwritten. Her initerviews w/the area residents who were involved w/her attacker are absorbing and relevant. She recorded her journey of explaination/exploration in gripping detail. I was totally involved but always taken up short w/a drive over the topography of central Oregon. Maybe this was meant to dissipate the horror Lentz revisited? I would recommend this stunning narative to every patient reader.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The story was a little bogged down by detail, but it was a great story of a woman¿s courage and grit to find her assailant. Although she does not bring him to justice, she finds some peace in herself from going back to the place it happened and telling the story enough times that it stopped haunting her. It¿s quite alarming that the man who ran over her and her friend is still living up in Oregon. Page turning book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An endeavor of incredible bravery from the planning of the bike journey to the completion of this book, Terri Jentz is to be admired for her relentless spirit and for giving us all the permission to demand justice. This book is by a woman who proves daily that no court can render a verdict more fittting. Congratulations.