Ax-attack survivor, author tells all

Terri Jentz to give reading in Sisters on Saturday

By David Jasper / The Bulletin

Published Jul 22, 2007 at 05:00AM

Terri Jentz will return later this week to Central Oregon — to the scene of the crime, as it were.

In the summer of 1977, at age 19, Jentz embarked on a cross-country bicycle trip with her Yale roommate. The two began their trip at the Oregon Coast, and set up camp at what is today Cline Falls State Scenic Viewpoint near Redmond.

Later that night, a pickup left the roadway and ran over their tent. The driver then climbed out, attacked the two with an ax, and left as abruptly as he’d entered their lives, never to be caught.

Both women survived, but not without scars. Jentz’s roommate was blinded in the incident, which she could not remember, and distanced herself from Jentz.

After a long state of denial, Jentz began to confront her deep psychic wounds, and 15 years after being attacked, returned to Oregon to investigate the crime herself. Her determination and magnetic spirit pulled in help from law enforcement and area citizens who had never forgotten the crime.

Last year, she published a memoir, “Strange Piece of Paradise,” a rich documentation of her search for answers. The book spanned genres, encompassing true crime, mystery and investigative journalism.

In addition to local characters and history, it explored broader themes of violence, the West and the American identity, and it earned Jentz critical comparisons to Truman Capote and Norman Mailer. It was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year and became a finalist for several awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Memoir.

Jentz, a Los Angeles-based screenwriter, has been working on a screenplay for a film version of “Paradise,” which will depict some events that were not in the book. She’s also spent much of the spring and summer promoting the recently published paperback edition of “Strange Piece of Paradise.” On Saturday at Paulina Springs Books in Sisters, she plans to discuss life since publication (see “If You Go”).

In the book, Jentz fingers her suspected attacker, a repeat offender she dubs Dirk Duran so as not to glamorize him, she says. Despite signs pointing to his guilt, the statute of limitations for attempted murder has long since passed.

The last time Jentz read in Sisters, Duran was freshly out of jail. In a new afterword written for the paperback, she recalls the reading, where “outside, several members of law enforcement buzzed the store’s perimeter in case he had vengeance on his mind.”

Inside, however, there was nothing but goodwill for Jentz, who calls herself a “ghost of Cline Falls returned to tell the tale that would help them integrate their shocking memories into a larger, shared narrative, a portrait of their community in a particular time.”

After publication of the memoir, things came full circle, Jentz said last week by phone.

“New pieces of the story were showing up. In fact, throughout the entire year, more and more people have contacted me. It’s taken a while to get to people.”

Details that could fine-tune the picture of what happened 30 years ago in Cline Falls continue to trickle in, she said.

“Somebody contacted me last week saying she played a vital role in that incident where my suspect beat up his girlfriend … the day after my attack. She said, ‘I feel like I should’ve been in your book!’ We talked for about four hours, and she has much, much more she wants to tell me.

“She wants to do her own investigation,” Jentz added. “She said, ‘I feel like there’s something missing here, and I can find out for you.’”

To be sure, Jentz has lived with that very same feeling. So far, the new clues “all just corroborate everything that I said in my book.”

“It’s sort of more of the same, but of course every detail is precious to me. Every new little piece of the story seems like a miracle to me, because I’m so invested in it. And so is the community.”

And when people in other parts of the world ask her if she resents the community, “It’s like, ‘anything but,’” Jentz said. “I feel like I have a parallel life there.”

Her next project, she said, is a nonfiction book set, in part, in Africa. It’s a long way from Oregon, a frequent stop in her travels.

“I feel so alive when I’m in Central Oregon, in a way that I haven’t anywhere else, really,” she said. “I don’t plan to write another book up there, and I don’t plan to be moving up there. So there’s something just a little sad about it, because I won’t have the excuses to go up as much.

“I’ll have to keep coming up just to visit friends. Part of the healing process was bonding with the community of Central Oregon. And people continue to show up out of the woodwork and become my friends and support me. It’s just nothing short of beautiful.”

If You Go

What: Reading and signing by author Terri Jentz

When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Paulina Springs Books, 252 W. Hood Ave., Sisters

Cost: Free

Contact: 549-0866