... an evocative and elegantly paced examination of the murders that takes a prism-like view of the crime ... [Eisenberg's] unraveling of the brutal double murder is as skilled as her exploration of Pocahontas County, where the men, as much as the women, appear trapped in their predestined societal roles, and where toxic masculinity gnaws at the men, rudderless and lost, who drink to fill the idle hours. But she also digs deeper, beyond the old clichés of insular, backward mountain folk, to find a thriving transgender community and an independent, open-minded streak among the county’s inhabitants ... Eisenberg could have stopped there and had a compelling story, but as in all the best true-crime books, The Third Rainbow Girl is about more than just a quest to solve the mystery. It’s also an elegy for a time when Eisenberg came close to her own self-prescribed destruction among the same towering loblolly pines and bending rivers of Pocahontas County. A sudden confession about her own precarious frame of mind zings like a shocking jolt from the pages ... not just a masterly examination of a brutal unsolved crime, which leads us through many surprising twists and turns and a final revelation about who the real killer might be. It’s also an unflinching interrogation of what it means to be female in a society marred by misogyny, where women hitchhiking alone are harshly judged, even blamed for their own murders.
... a true crime tale as thoroughly researched and reported as it is perplexing ... offers a deep-dive into rural Appalachia, a region of the United States that is little understood, and it digs into questions of how deeply misogyny and bias can run inside a community. It is also an honest and endearing coming-of-age tale — one that will leave readers curious to know what Eisenberg will write about next ... Eisenberg's growing personal commitment to the summer camp for teen girls, and to her friends in this complicated rural ecosystem, emerges as the living heartbeat of the book ... [Eisenberg's] relentless reporting and attention to detail are what make the true crime elements of this book so enjoyable ... accomplishes what any good murder mystery should. It shines a spotlight on a nexus of people and a place. Eisenberg's tendency to weave in references to writers who've preceded her in the genre — Joan Didion and Truman Capote, for example — makes the reading experience uniquely thoughtful and introspective ... The insights into human nature are the real gritty, good stuff you get from reading a masterful work of journalism like this one.
This kind of meta-layering permeates Third Rainbow Girl, creating a reading experience that is both electric and cerebral, acute and obtuse ... one of the most striking and disturbing moments in the book, a potent manifestation of one of the main narrative arcs: storytelling as a basic impulse that can be empowering in some cases and utterly horrifying in others. Both have profound consequences ... The Third Rainbow Girl, then, is not so much a true crime story as it is a philosophical meditation ... The Third Rainbow Girl aims a beam at a vast constellation of droplets, and draws color.
I was pretty sure I was going to love Emma Copley Eisenberg's true crime/memoir hybrid on page one ... the deal was sealed when it became clear that, in addition to being a thorough reporter and creative thinker, Eisenberg is dryly funny ... The murder Eisenberg investigates is of two women hitchhiking to a 1980 West Virginia be-in. A local bully was convicted of the crime, but Eisenberg's gripping account offers a different solution, one rooted in the idea that injustice happens whenever we judge each other too quickly.
Ms. Eisenberg shares deeply personal experiences of her time in Pocahontas County, exposing her vulnerabilities, her own heavy drinking, her relationships with the men there and how deeply she had come to feel about the rugged pouch of land below the Eastern Panhandle ... Besides being a compelling read, this book advances the efforts of other storytellers who have tried to cut through the devious and hurtful attitudes about Appalachia to reveal an abiding humanity in its quirky soul.
The Third Rainbow Girl is an unusual true crime book that dispenses with suspense techniques ... The Third Rainbow Girl is as committed to history and personal exploration as it is to its respectful and detailed reporting of the murders, investigation, trials and aftermath. Its complexity and insistence that a true crime story is one that expands into further questions, and doesn’t collapse toward a resolution, will frustrate some readers ... an intimately lived and researched look at life in Appalachia, of life as a woman in constant, uninvited danger from men, and of the deep bonds that are possible between people and a place ... The Third Rainbow Girl ranges over different non-fiction genres, but Eisenberg marshals each section carefully, resulting in a coherent and powerful whole.
Digging into a cold case, author Emma Copley Eisenberg uncovers more than the facts. She uncovers and shares the shadows and light places in a rural culture that largely goes unnoticed in the American mainstream ... a credit to Eisenberg’s tenacity and organizational skills. She delves diligently into the old stories of the Rainbow killings, and applies her store of cultural sensitivity and non-judgmental observation to the process. Expressing a sense of bonding and obligation to everyone involved, to Appalachian folk ethos and West Virginia history, she reaches the conclusion that things are rarely what they seem, and there are no absolutes when dealing with the human heart and impulse.
... can be read as a memoir, as a deeply researched true-crime report, as a work of philosophy. And the language is physical and visceral in its description of both the corporeal and the psychological. By Eisenberg’s own rubric, this book succeeds on many levels ... Eisenberg is a skilled researcher, a truth made clear by the troves of detail about the 'Rainbow Murders' case, expertly laid out in engaging prose ... Eisenberg injects the book with two vital lifelines: her own memoir-esque chapters, and copious historical context. The narrative is expansive, but it doesn’t get out of hand. It is engagingly written and well paced ... Ultimately, the book is about accepting multiplicity and the prismatic nature of truth and justice ... A book like The Third Rainbow Girl is a rare find. Its nuance and self-awareness propel the narrative forward into territory far beyond the black and white. In that sense, it is a rainbow in itself.
In a stunning work of true crime reporting, Copley Eisenberg delivers the gripping tale of the murders, trial, and subsequent reverberations through the community. The author transcends genre and offers a unique work that is part memoir, part sociological analysis, providing a compassionate commentary that has come from years of living in the community ... Eisenberg’s celebrated debut is not to be missed and will appeal to a wide variety of readers.
... a haunting and hard-to-characterize book about restless women and the things that await them on the road ... Because she lived and worked with teenage girls in Pocahontas County on and off for several years but isn't a native, [Eisenberg] is suited to the insider-outsider reporter role ... there's a deeper dimension to The Third Rainbow Girl that gives it its contemplative power. Eisenberg intertwines her own raw story about coming-into-womanhood into the true crime narrative.
With The Third Rainbow Girl, Emma Copley Eisenberg tries to cram far too many ideas into one narrative, in turn losing the most important thread contained therein ... But Eisenberg further muddies the waters by dragging herself front and center into the story, recounting her NYC girl experiences in the same rural county of West Virginia several decades removed from the crime ... . The approach feels not only forced, but unnecessary, as though it were part of a separate work that could’ve just as easily fallen under its own memoir header ... Unfortunately, this attempt to cover all the hot-button issues under the aegis of a true crime story causes each to receive short shrift and, in the long run, causes the overarching story to suffer ... Her ideas are all noble enough, they simply don’t fit together in a way that proves consistently engaging.
The book is more than just another true crime memoir; Eisenberg has crafted a beautiful and complicated ode to West Virginia. Exquisitely written, this is a powerful commentary on society’s notions of gender, violence, and rural America. Readers of literary nonfiction will devour this title in one sitting.
... a genre-straddling debut that blends true crime and memoir ... she reconstructs the case with a brisk pace and a keen sensitivity to a Gordian knot of kinship and other ties that posed challenges for the police and suspects alike ... compelling ... With access to Beard and other key figures, Eisenberg avoids both perils and offers a nuanced portrait of a crime and its decadeslong effects. A promising young author reappraises a notorious double murder—and her life.