four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
24-Sept-Oct-2006
By: 
Terri Jentz
user_rating: 
0

A-StrangePieceOfParadiseIn the summer of 1977, Terri Jentz and a fellow Yale student set out on a coast-to-coast bike trip. A week into their excursion, the two were attacked while camping in Northern Oregon, run over by an unknown man in a pickup truck and slashed with an ax. Jentz, who spent 15 years coming to grips with her physical and emotional scars, details her search for her attacker. Over the course of her investigation, in which she returns to the town to piece together the facts of the incident, Jentz focuses on the man she believes changed her life all those years before. Despite making national headlines, the case remains unsolved, and Jentz’s search futile, if cathartic.
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 560 pages. $27. ISBN: 0374134987

Seattle Post-Intelligencer 4.5 of 5 Stars
"… a breathtaking memoir that deserves enshrinement on the shelf of essential books about the American West, worthy of a place beside Norman Mailer’s classic account, The Executioner’s Song. … The first-time book writer has crafted a riveting pilgrimage from horror to hope and healing, but one with no easy answers or satisfying justice, an inspiring and powerful testament to what can happen when someone refuses to live life as a victim." John Marshall

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"There is something wonderfully voyeuristic about this book; it is a cinematic immersion into a saga that is absorbing yet repugnant. But Jentz demands more of readers than voyeurism, for Strange Piece of Paradise is ultimately about violence against women." Lauren F. Winner

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"This book, a haunting meditation on the attack and Jentz’s hunt for her would-be murderer, is like nothing I have read. … While Strange Piece of Paradise would benefit from a tighter edit, it also packs the power of a story that has simmered for 20 years." Karen R. Long

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Understatement is the quiet power that fuels Jentz’s writing, and our rage as we read it. … She perceives her story through others’ eyes and minds, and the liberation is exhilarating, not just for her but for us." Mary Roach

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The anecdotal evidence … is compelling, though the sheer volume of it—and the obsessive way in which it’s presented to readers—says as much about the victim as it does about the attacker. Jentz’s narrative is at times forced and cluttered, though she also moves with great skill back and forth between the year of the attack and the years of her investigation and never descends into self-pity." J. D. Dolan

Rocky Mountain News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The reader is left with the pain of having struggled through her book, without reward. Although a talented writer, Jentz tediously recounts every discussion she had with everyone from the town librarian to the nurses who care for her." Karen Algeo Krizman

Critical Summary

Terri Jentz’s harrowing story finds voice in Strange Piece of Paradise, her first book. Critics praise Jentz’s courage for returning to the scene of such violence, though several comment that the difficulty of uncovering compelling evidence nearly 30 years later precludes a satisfying conclusion. The book’s chronological organization also presents some minor problems, and the book can be plodding at times. Still, the shortcomings do little to mute Jentz’s powerful and elegant style, her craft honed by a career as a screenwriter. Critics favorably compare the effort to Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, and they applaud the author’s willingness to face her demons.