There were so many sentences in Emma Copley Eisenberg’s glorious debut that stopped me cold and made me see the world anew. I’ll quote some of them throughout this review. But the one that stays with me most comes near the end of The Third Rainbow Girl, in what seems like a précis of why this book, and so many great books, exist: “Telling a story is often about obligation and sympathy, identification, and empathy. With whom is your lot cast? To whom are you bound?”
Thinking through these central questions makes you understand why The Third Rainbow Girl stands out in structure and in feeling. It is a book of true crime, centered around the 1980 murders of Vicki Durian and Nancy Santomero, both shot to death in an isolated area deep in the wilds of West Virginia’s Pocahontas County. It is a book of memoir, of Eisenberg’s “story of my becoming” as she leaves behind urban living for rural volunteering with disaffected young girls in this pocket of Appalachia and wrestles with her burgeoning queerness in an overwhelmingly heterosexual environment. It is a book of history, of how West Virginia “would struggle to be fully and truly part of the Union.” And it is a book of gorgeous literary merit, digging deep into the maw of misogyny without ever veering into cliché.