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Summary and book reviews of The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg

The Third Rainbow Girl

The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia

by Emma Copley Eisenberg

The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg X
The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg
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  • Published:
    Jan 2020, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Tara Mcnabb
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About this Book

Book Summary

A stunningly written investigation of the murder of two young women--showing how a violent crime casts a shadow over an entire community.

In the early evening of June 25, 1980 in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, two middle-class outsiders named Vicki Durian, 26, and Nancy Santomero, 19, were murdered in an isolated clearing. They were hitchhiking to a festival known as the Rainbow Gathering but never arrived; they traveled with a third woman however, who lived. For thirteen years, no one was prosecuted for the "Rainbow Murders," though deep suspicion was cast on a succession of local residents in the community, depicted as poor, dangerous, and backward. In 1993, a local farmer was convicted, only to be released when a known serial killer and diagnosed schizophrenic named Joseph Paul Franklin claimed responsibility. With the passage of time, as the truth seemed to slip away, the investigation itself caused its own traumas--turning neighbor against neighbor and confirming a fear of the violence outsiders have done to this region for centuries.

Emma Copley Eisenberg spent years living in Pocahontas and re-investigating these brutal acts. Using the past and the present, she shows how this mysterious act of violence has loomed over all those affected for generations, shaping their fears, fates, and the stories they tell about themselves. In The Third Rainbow Girl, Eisenberg follows the threads of this crime through the complex history of Appalachia, forming a searing and wide-ranging portrait of America--its divisions of gender and class, and of its violence.

Excerpt
The Third Rainbow Girl

Throughout the spring of 1980, the Survival Center at the University of Oregon in Eugene mailed thousands of flyers with gratis nonprofit postage to food co-ops and colleges and mailboxes all over America. "This is the Invitation and Information sheet to the 1980 Rainbow Family World Peace Gathering," the flyers read. "These Gatherings are Free and Everyone Everywhere is invited to Come and Share Together. Bring your Friends and all your Relations to Gather with us in the hopes of Spreading the True Truth that Humanity is Beautiful, that We can Live and Work Together in Cooperation and Joy." The flyer invited anyone who could get there to attend a peace festival that summer in the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.

Such was the habit of the Rainbow Family, a loose organization that aimed to revive the hippie spirit of the 1960s and had been converging on a different public land for a few weeks each July since 1972. A remote location was ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The book is the culmination of Eisenberg's five years of research on the unsolved murder of two young women in West Virginia during the summer of 1980. Through illuminating facts and hard-hitting personal accounts, Eisenberg crafts a compelling narrative that turns a forgotten incident into something relevant and timely...continued

Full Review Members Only (636 words).

(Reviewed by Tara Mcnabb).

Media Reviews

New York Times
The Third Rainbow Girl is 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.

NPR
The Third Rainbow Girl 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.

Kirkus Reviews
Eisenberg...offers a nuanced portrait of a crime and its decades-long effects. A promising young author reappraises a notorious double murder—and her life.

Publishers Weekly
[G]ripping...This is essential reading for true crime fans.

Booklist (starred review)
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.

Author Blurb Carmen Maria Machado, National Book Award Finalist and author of Her Body and Other Parties
The Third Rainbow Girl is a staggering achievement of reportage, memoir, and sociological reckoning. We are better for this brilliant, gorgeous, and deeply humane book.

Author Blurb Robert Kolker, New York Times bestselling author of Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery
Part crime narrative and part soul-searching memoir, Emma Copley Eisenberg's The Third Rainbow Girl has so much wisdom to offer...Rich in detail and sensitivity and intelligence and honesty, this is a book you won't want to put down, one that will stay with you for a long time.

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Beyond the Book

West Virginia's Mysterious Cold Cases

Martinsburg, West VirginiaIn The Third Rainbow Girl, Emma Copley Eisenberg examines an unsolved double murder that took place in West Virginia in 1980. Her focus is not so much on the murder itself but on the long term impact on the community as a whole. In the USA, an estimated 200,000 murder cases since the 1960s remain unsolved. Each one of these leaves a lasting impact, not just on those directly connected to the victim(s) but on the community at large. Despite having a crime rate below the national average, West Virginia has its own share of unsolved murders including these four high profile cases:

December, 1945: The Sodder family was large compared to most families; they had a total of nine children living at home when on Christmas Eve of ...

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