September 01, 2006

Book Review

Strange Piece of Paradise by Terri Jentz

On a June night in the arid lands of eastern Oregon, a meticulous young cowboy drove over a pup tent where two teenage girls lay sleeping. The cowboy got out of his vehicle and attacked both women with a small axe, then drove off, leaving them to die.

But neither of the girls died that night in 1977. Though damaged for life, both women lived, and one of them went back to Oregon 15 years later to try to make sense of what happened to her. This book is the story of Terri Jentz's return to Oregon to interview and sleuth out the truth of the event she barely survived.

I was 16 when I heard of the axe attack in Oregon. That same summer, three Girl Scouts were strangled to death in their tents while camping in Oklahoma. The very next summer, in 1978, a female hitchhiker in California was raped and her arms were severed. The women's movement was at a feverish pitch those years, but teenage girls paid the price. For this reason I was especially interested to read Jentz's first hand account. Did she see herself, I wondered, as a sacrificial lamb?

The answer is: I don't think she's achieved enough perspective over her own story to even see it in that light. I like the book. I think she's done a great job with it. She's a winning writer. But I think the larger brush strokes of her story elude her.

For example, Terri is a lesbian, but this foundational aspect of her life is barely acknowledged in the credits and is furiously brushed under the carpet in the book. Maybe she didn't want her book to be a lesbian's story, but like it or not, her life is a lesbian's story. By refusing to acknowledge that fact, she misses out on pinpointing a potential motive for her attack. Even though her tent companion was not gay, the attacker may have assumed both women were lesbians. Terri never once admits that the attack on her might have been a gay bashing.

And she spends a lot of the book utterly bamboozled as to why her tent companion, "Shayna" was angry at her that night. Might it have been because Shayna had suddenly realized Terri was not a "pal" at all, but a suitor who was already deeply in love with her? Terri never admits that Shayna might have been upset because they were 3000 miles from home, alone together, and Shayna didn't know, before hand, that Terri was a lesbian.

So, there is a deep seam of dishonesty here that Terri tries to camouflage, but the reader sees it. It's like looking at the Grand Canyon. I think she says a lot of useful and interesting things about American culture in this book. She gets sidetracked a bit much by "the patriarchy is killing the world" rhetoric in places, but overall it's a good effort and a magnetic story. I just wish she'd been more honest about her life and far sighted in her analysis.

Posted by Chai-Rista at September 1, 2006 09:37 AM | TrackBack

Thanks for the book review. I may have to put this on my to-read list ...

Always love to read your posts. ;-)

Posted by: keysunset at September 1, 2006 10:16 AM