It’s important to note right off the bat that The Third Rainbow Girl is not a true crime tale in a conventional sense. It’s not In Cold Blood or I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. If you’re looking for a plucky sleuth to solve the crime and tell us *what it all means*, then keep looking.
Instead, the book functions as an exploration of many things: of Appalachian culture in rural West Virginia, of class and gender, of human sexuality, of memory and the persistence of time. They don’t all come together smoothly; this is not the most streamlined story. But it is told effectively in its own way.
Emma Copley Eisenberg is willing to live in the complexity of context. Juxtaposing her time as an AmeriCorps intern with the history of Pocahontas County, West Virginia and the murder of two women who were en route to attend a hippie festival, she tells a broader tale of who the people are that populate the area, and what the crime did to them. I was trying to understand where exactly she was going with this until the end: the story is not in just the crime or in her privileged understanding of the people but in the way the people are living and trying to tell the story.
This is what will make-or-break the book for you: if you’re willing to indulge Emma’s experience as an interloper in the area, it will give you the broader picture of how she writes people with thoroughness and detail as opposed to the infantilizing, stereotypical narrative outsiders give West Virginia. If not, don’t read this. Personally speaking, while I think she doesn’t hit the full reach of what she’s trying to say, the attempt is interesting and gave me a lot to think about. This isn’t one of the best things I read in 2020 but it’s one of the most memorable.