Rich Girl, Poor Girl, Dead Girl, by Michael Morrison, is a detective story set in a small townin 1960s Oregon. This is an atypical look at the era, seen through the eyes of a logger turned semiprofessional detective. If you are looking for protests, LSD trips and cameos from Martin Luther King or Abbie Hoffman, you will not find them here. You will find many interesting, vivid details about the effect of the decline of Pacific Northwest logging on the small towns that depended almost wholly on the industry. While simple on its surface, Rich Girl presents an existential crisis and its resolution, and is worth a reader’s attention.
The setting feels as real as the characters do, perhaps because the main character’s condition echoes that of the town: his glory days are past and now he is fading. His body is no longer what it was in his youth. Luckily he lives up to his nickname, the Gent (“he’s intelli-freakin’-gent!”) but his brain will soon decline as well if he cannot climb out of the bottle. There is more at stake here than solving a murder. In fact, the greater part of the plot comes from McCall and other characters sorting out their collective and individual past. The book catches the town and its people at an existential turning point. With potential death hovering over them in the form of mysterious murders, each character must either turn toward a brighter future or drown in the past.
The main theme of the book rings true in that people tend to do better if they have something to live for. There is an entire field of psychology that investigates the fact that human beings are mentally and emotionally healthier if they have a mental picture of a future that can be better than the present, and thus they have a responsibility to their future selves to make the changes needed to make this image a reality.
However, Rich Girl, Poor Girl, Dead Girl is an acquired taste. It is clear that the author has a faith-based perspective. There are strong religious—specifically Protestant Christian—elements in this book that may bounce non-believers out of the story. Most small towns in the US were, and still are, religious but this is no mere background element. Religion plays an active role in the recovery of the main character in the form of “counselor” occasionally equating to “pastor” and in prayer having a direct effect on a person’s life. This is a strong element since psychological recovery from addiction and trauma are central themes.
On this subject, I tend to agree with Victor Frankl: religion is one thing, psychology is another. If religion helps the person in question find meaning in their own life, then a psychologist should “meet them where they are” and include this element in helping the whole person to orient toward their own unique future. However, someone for whom meaning in life does not involve religion may be disoriented by this.
On one hand Rich Girl, Poor Girl, Dead Girl provides an introspective look at a specific, simpler time, when running “maryjane” was the worst a small-town dealer could do and an entire town could be shaken by a single killing. However, it is aware of this: it also deals with a greater theme, that of a perpetually-vanishing past and swiftly-approaching future. If you are interested in this point in history, interested in faith, and interested in a mystery, check out Rich Girl.
This book will be available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kindle and the major E-pub channels.
The Editor has been published in The Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Copperwood Review, Humanist Magazine, Niche, Tertulia, Debris, Poetry Pacific Magazine, Pink.Girl.Ink and most recently in Bewildering Stories.