Strange Piece of Paradise
When I picked up this memoir in early July, I was expecting to navigate a woman’s difficult journey from surviving a brutal, anonymous trauma into an enlightened state through making peace with the crime scene and its effected community. What I did not anticipate was the systemic analysis of social problems, personal depth and conscious processing that this book contains. Trying to describe Jentz’s words with my own feels trite and insulting, but because this is one of the most important books I’ve ever read, I owe this story’s survivor that much.
On a summer bicycle trip across the country in 1977, Jentz, along with her traveling companion and college roommate, were attacked by an axe-wielding cowboy in an Oregon park. Surviving the attack with only large laceration scars on her arm as physical proof, Jentz and her friend were shuttled home and the case was never solved (those two details are somewhat unrelated). After long years of unprocessed traumatic grief and anger took their toll, Jentz decided the only way to attain peace was to retrace her steps, solve her own attempted murder and confront the community that was left in the wake of her personal tragedy.
But in addition to Jentz’s own remarkable journey back to small towns in rural Oregon, she positions her passage in conjunction to problems far larger than her own. With a poignant deconstruction of misogyny—“mass psychosis in humankind everywhere that devalues women”—alongside a very revealing look at the survivor, Jentz transports you into a world where deep emotions are commonplace, tragedy touches everyone, and community is real. She also speaks to the very real anxiety many women face daily, just in living their lives, and many times, I would have to limit how much I would read in a day or week to prevent my own neurosis from overtaking me. This is perhaps the greatest compliment I can give to the depth and breadth of Jentz’s work. Collective consciousness should be forced to bear the weight of women’s fears in a way it currently does not, and by communing with this story of total reclamation and survival, I felt less alone in a world that doesn’t yet morally or legally protect us.
Often left speechless when trying to summarize Strange Piece of Paradise, this is one of the best books of my lifetime. Terri Jentz’s reflexive, powerful words can be retraumatizing at time, but I’ve never felt safer putting my own experience within the context of someone else’s. May her words travel as far as she has.