Powerful and fast paced, this is the electrifying account of Jentz's investigation into the mystery of her near murder. A startling profile of a ...Show synopsisPowerful and fast paced, this is the electrifying account of Jentz's investigation into the mystery of her near murder. A startling profile of a psychopath, and a moving record of a brave inner journey, this unforgettable work is certain to be one of the most talked about books of the year.Hide synopsis
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Imagine that you?re a 20-year-old Yale student, celebrating the summer of 1977 by attempting to cycle across the United States with a friend. You?re one of two young women beginning an audacious adventure in the vast American West. You?re eager to soak up the country that just celebrated its bicentennial. But you?re almost murdered before you?ve even started to miss the Pacific Ocean. Such is the true story of Strange Piece of Paradise, a horrifying and triumphant memoir.
Terri Jentz is one of those students. She and her friend, Shayna, have biked a couple days from the coast to the central Oregon desert, where they are camping for the night of June 22. In midnight?s darkness, Terri is awakened in her sleeping bag by a revving engine?only seconds before a pickup truck intentionally rams the tent she shares with Shayna. Terri is pinned to the ground by the vehicle, which rests on her chest. She describes with levelheaded deliberateness the sensations of her life being squeezed from her body. She also details the horror of hearing a man get out of the truck and attack her friend with an ax, followed by her own surreal and vicious assault.
Terri lived through this, as did Shayna. But a severe head wound left Shayna with no memory of the incident; strangely, she also had no desire to relive, retell, or resolve their story. All that was left to Jentz, who has fashioned a book that is remarkable in many ways.
The Oregon assault is but one haunting part of this book?a brief, starkly rendered scene that never fully recedes from memory. The bulk of Strange Piece of Paradise is a quest. After 15 years of putting emotional distance between herself and her attack, Jentz sets off to heal herself in pursuit of justice?a justice that had long been missing, since her case was cursorily investigated and never solved. The resulting journey takes her back to the scene of the crime, back into the lives of those there who might be able to illuminate her investigation, and back even into the gaze of her would-be murderer.
Jentz?s account of her pursuit is impressive. In a period of bogus and sensationalized memoirs (consider James Frey?s scandalized A Million Little Pieces), her fair-mindedness and reserve are evident. She writes crisp sentences that spark and pop with her fiery personality, and she doesn?t smother readers with overly emotional or sentiment-seeking prose. Her story is passionate and touching, but she maintains such an even balance that the reader is left with a credible reconstruction that speaks for itself?rather than a desperate plea for attention (ahem, Mr. Frey).
And Terri Jentz does deserve attention. Her writing is competent (at times, even beautiful). Her pacing and execution, while measured, are impressive?especially considering that this is her first book. But her nerve is what shines through and marks nearly every page. Despite considerable emotional, social, and even physical risks, and in the face of disappointing setbacks over numerous years, she sticks to her guns. She rallies support from within and without, and she hunts her attacker until she?s staring into the eyes of a prime suspect.
Strange Piece of Paradise is a compelling memoir. It embodies a corner of the modern-day West, as did Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. It turns a tragic crime into an introspective, relentless pursuit of truth, as did Shot in the Heart. And it introduces us to a writer with a distinctive voice, a history to share, and a lot of promise, as did I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Strange Piece of Paradise doesn?t fully match the legendary mettle of that Maya Angelou classic, but these two books share a certain lyricism and a lust for justice. They?re also the vivid stories of women who surmounted their histories and left their demons in the dust. And that, indeed, is a kind of paradise found.
This true story is hard to put down. The author shares her journey of self-examination and reawakening. She tells the tale of being attacked by someone with an axe who nearly murders her and her survival. But she also recounts how she connects with her family in her search for meaning almost two decades after the attack. She is amazingly honest about how she coped with the attack from the time it happened until she began examining it. It is clearly a cathartic story for the author, but It is a chilling story that is both compelling and captivating for the reader.
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