Sunday, February 9, 2020

Emma Copley Eisenberg's "The Third Rainbow Girl"

Emma Copley Eisenberg’s fiction, essays, and reportage have appeared in McSweeney’s, The Paris Review online, Granta, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Tin House, Guernica, AGNI, The Los Angeles Review of Books, American Short Fiction, Electric Literature's Recommended Reading, The New Republic, Pacific Standard, Slate, VICE, 100 Days in Appalachia, and others. She is the recipient of fellowships or awards from the Tin House Summer Workshop, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Wurlitzer Foundation, the Millay Colony for the Arts, & Lambda Literary. Her short fiction has been awarded a Pushcart Prize and been distinguished three times over by the Best American Short Stories series and her nonfiction has been included in Longreads Best Crime Reporting 2017 and won awards from the New York Association of Black Journalists and the Deadline Club.

Eisenberg applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia, her first book of nonfiction, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Third Rainbow Girl, we meet Walt Weiford, the Pocahontas County, West Virginia man who became the prosecutor in the criminal case of the state against a string of local men suspected of the killings around which my book orbits. Here is a passage:
[Weiford] was two years a married man in June 1980, and it was the summer between his second and third years [of law school], when he came home to intern for then-prosecutor Steve Hunter for nothing but experience. He came into work one day, and Hunter told him there had been a double homicide up on Briery Knob and that was all they were going to do that day. Weiford was twenty-eight.
What a fantastic tiny window into the book! In many ways, Weiford’s life and actions encapsulate the book’s project of working to show the truth that people’s actions can mean two things at the same time, two opposing people’s suffering can both be true at the same time. Weiford was by all accounts a smart, insightful, and empathetic man, a musician and a parent, genuinely trying to bring justice to his home community through the law, though in my opinion, the investigation and prosecution of these crimes may have created more violence and trauma in the community than it healed.

This page about Weiford is also a lovely window into the ways that the events I look into in the book stayed with and even perhaps defined the lives of so many interesting and disparate people in this one county in southeastern West Virginia. Weiford was twenty-eight when he went up on that mountain with his boss when the murders occurred and he went on to try this case twice, participating in its prosecution for more than twenty years, tanking his health in the process, and his daughter would become a key person to me, years later, when I moved into this community and began learning about the place and its history.

The Third Rainbow Girl has three “highways” if you will, the story of the murder of two women hitchhikers as we’ve discussed, the story of an interesting and rich community called Pocahontas County, West Virginia where the murders happened and its place in the broader history of the Appalachian region, and my own story of living in that place as an AmeriCorps “anti-poverty” volunteer and how that story intersects and rhymes with the other two. If you like history, memoir, or general nonfiction about criminal justice or America, there may be something here for you.
Visit Emma Copley Eisenberg's website.

--Marshal Zeringue