Terri Jentz on Her “Strange Piece of Paradise”

 
 

Strange Piece of ParadiseA particularly poignant detail in the book is the kiss on the cheek that Jentz gives her dying friend before help arrives. Jentz now says she hadn’t kissed a cheek since she was a child. The action conveyed a degree of intimacy that was highly unusual for her—so intimate that until now, throughout decades of meticulously recounting the events of that night to anyone venturing to ask, Jentz had always held back this “crowning detail.”

To readers still wondering whether any of the story was “straightened” up, Jentz replies, “It’s not a gay coming-of-age story and it would be queering it up to make it so.” She had extensive talks on the matter with her editor, and honesty emerged as their top priority. “Otherwise you start to cast a certain doubt on the entire truthfulness of your story,” she says.

“I think it’s very common for young girls to have crushes on each other. Lots of girls who end up being heterosexual can relate to my infatuation with this girl,” Jentz says. “I didn’t want to rob the book of its universality.”

Jentz says some readers think she’s holding something back from the story because she ended up being gay and Weiss straight, even though both girls were virgins in that summer of ’77. “The people who seem most confused or feel like there’s more to the story are straight people that are sort of intrigued,” she reports. “There isn’t a single gay person I’ve talked to that doesn’t completely understand where I’m coming from here and has had very similar situations.”

No one was ever charged with the crime. At the time Oregon had a three-year statute of limitations on attempted murder, so the perpetrator will never be brought to justice. (In the words of an Oregon victims’ advocate Jentz befriends, “We kind of reward you because you’re not very good at what you do.”) The statute no longer stands, but its revocation isn’t retroactive.

As documented in the book, Jentz returns to Redmond to investigate the unsolved crime 15 years afterward, eventually investing years sleuthing and charting the event’s aftermath, for her as well as the small community where it took place. She quickly learns that following the attack many Redmond residents quickly suspected a 17-year-old local cowboy, who has continued to live in their midst and now has a long record of domestic violence and other assaults.

Jentz recently wrapped up a two-month book tour that included a stop in a town not far from Redmond. The man she believes attacked her had been in jail facing charges of beating a terminally ill man and stealing his prescription drugs, but was released the day before she was scheduled to appear at a local bookstore.

Jentz had made a decision to change his name in the book so readers might see him less as a lone psychopath and more as one product of a culture of violence. But news media broke that anonymity. Jentz describes the implications for her: “suddenly the perpetrator about whom you’ve written, who’s been stirred to incredible wrath by CNN and Prime Time, who named him and showed his picture on national television, is now released the day before I’m assembling 200 local people who are supporting me.”

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