A Murder and A Memoir
By: Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Publication Date: 5/16/2017
My Rating: 5 Stars ++
Top Books of 2017
"This book is a marvel. The Fact of a Body is equal parts gripping and haunting and will leave you questioning whether any one story can hold the full truth."
— Celeste Ng, author of the New York Times bestselling Everything I Never Told You
Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes—the moment she hears him speak of his crimes—she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.
Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors her view of Ricky's crime.
But another surprise awaits: She wasn’t the only one who saw her life in Ricky’s.
An intellectual and emotional thriller that is also a different kind of murder mystery, THE FACT OF A BODY is a book not only about how the story of one crime was constructed—but about how we grapple with our own personal histories. Along the way it tackles questions about the nature of forgiveness, and if a single narrative can ever really contain something as definitive as the truth. This groundbreaking, heart-stopping work, ten years in the making, shows how the law is more personal than we would like to believe—and the truth more complicated, and powerful, than we could ever imagine.
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"This book is a marvel. With unflinching precision and immense compassion, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich peels apart both a murder case and her own experience to reveal how we try to make sense of the past. The Fact of a Body is equal parts gripping and haunting and will leave you questioning whether any one story can hold the full truth."
―Celeste Ng, author of the New York Times bestselling Everything I Never Told You
“A fascinating hybrid of true crime and memoir, TheFact of a Body is intricately constructed, emotionally raw, and unflinching. Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich has written a gripping meditation on memory, justice, and the limits of empathy.”
"The Fact of a Body is unlike any murder story I've ever read, a masterpiece of both reportage and memoir, a book that could only be written by an author with Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich's staggering gifts: a relentless reporter with a law degree from Harvard, a poet's understanding of the cadence of a line, and a novelist's gift for empathy. Walter Benjamin famously said that all great works of art either dissolve a genre or invent one. This book does both, and its greatness is undeniable."
―Justin St. Germain, author of Son of a Gun
"The Fact of a Body is a remarkable act of witness, an anatomy of silence and the violence it abets, a book of both public and private accountings. Rejecting the false comfort of certainty, it confronts the inadequacy of all our tools for fathoming not just unforgivable crimes, but the baffling, human grace that can forgive them. This is a profound and riveting book."
― Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
"The balancing act here performed between autobiography and journalism, documentary and imagination, witnessing and reckoning, the tender and the terrible, is shrewd and graceful. In the hands of a lesser human or writer, it could have all fallen apart; instead, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich has given us an exquisite and exquisitely difficult work of art that makes a fierce claim on our attention, conscience, and heart."
― Maggie Nelson, author of the NBCC award-winning Argonauts
"Haunting...impeccably researched...Her writing is remarkably evocative and taut with suspense, with a level of nuance that sets this effort apart from other true crime accounts."
―Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“An accomplished literary debut…an absorbing narrative about secrets, pain, revenge, and, ultimately, the slippery notion of truth…A powerful evocation of the raw pain of emotional scars.”
"Compulsive, eloquent and profoundly troubling. One of those rare books which embrace the genuine complexity of life."
― Mark Haddon, bestselling author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
“The writing is superb and gripping…a moving must-have.”
―Library Journal, starred review
“Surprising, suspenseful, and moving…A book that defies both itsgenres, turning into something wholly different and memorable.”
―Booklist, starred review
“Haunting… Marzano-Lesnevich digs into one case that begins to feeloddly familiar, and eventually is forced to confront her understanding ofjustice, forgiveness, and truth.”
“THE FACT OF A BODY is excellent.So gripping and fascinating.”
―Sophie Hannah, New York Times bestsellingauthor of The Monogram Murders
30 Best Books of 2017
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich weaves an emotional, beautifully and intelligently written debut; a haunting work of art— THE FACT OF A BODY A Murder and a Memoir.
A cross-genre, an extraordinary mix of literary, memoir, true-crime, legal, mystery, suspense, and historical in one powerful story—traveling between a murder case and the author’s own personal childhood tragic abuse.
When the two begin to mesh together the author begins her journey for answers. A tale of two crimes.
In 1992 Louisiana, Rick Langley (26 yrs. old) brutally murdered a (6 yr. old) boy, Jeremy Guillory. This was not the first time his name was in the news. A pedophile, he had served time in Georgia for molesting a girl.
In 2003, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (Harvard Law), was working an intern at a law firm. The firm was defending Langley in his death-penalty appeal.
No stranger to the law, both her parents are prominent New Jersey lawyers. For some reason, she feels a strong pull to this case. She becomes obsessed with learning more about this case, yet it seems to bring out strong emotions about her own life.
A shameful secret buried by her family. Her family was opposed to the death penalty, but yet she wants him to die. She must define, and make sense of this strong feeling.
In this harrowing, raw, and emotional journey, the author pieces together the story of murder, and her own personal story. Courageously she steps out of the darkness and silence, with the accounting of her own sexual abuse as a child by her grandfather. The story begins.
A grandfather who made his way up the steps and into their room. The two sisters. She recalls when she told her parents, they did nothing. Love and hurt. How to be safe. Did the grandmother know?
They did not want to embarrass or shame the family, damper careers, or hurt the grandmother. They only attempted to keep the grandfather away and move forward as though nothing happened.
The case triggered deeply buried ugly evil and damaging secrets. The unpleasant truths. At the same time, she begins to dig further into the scars while attempting to understand Langley and her own abuser (her grandfather). What caused them to be monsters? Whom to blame?
A journey of self-discovery for over ten years. Leaving the law behind to begin her intense work. There is a story to be told. To be uncovered. A message.
Heartbreaking, moving, and gripping. The darkness of sexual abuse. The blackness of her own family. In the process, there are even more family secrets which are unraveled.
The astounding and shocking conclusion. Her family buried the abuse. The painful emotional scars turned into depression and eating disorders. Shame. Probing questions. How will the events from the past affect her relationships in the future?
How many times has this occurred in other families? Is it passed down through generations? At what point could have the abuse ceased? When the person reaches out for help. The abuser and the victim. Through generations, what breaks the patterns? By hiding the abuse, what is gained? What is lost? Can mercy be shown? Forgiveness or acceptance?
“Is what happens in a family the problem of the family, or the problem of the one harmed by it”? There is a cost.
Thought-provoking, the author’s writing is spellbinding. A highly-skilled writer, meticulously researched; hard to believe this is a debut. A cautionary tale. Guard your children.
Marzano-Lesnevich became a lawyer because she believed that the law simplified and made sense of stories; however, are they too complicated to be contained? Can the abuser be a victim as well?
I purchased the audiobook for my personal collection, narrated by the author. Her performance was outstanding. Raw and emotional. The author having to relive five years of pain. How do you get past the hate?
Even though I had read the book back in May when it came out and rated it 5 stars, I was sidetracked with my dad’s illness in NC, as his POA; hiring in-home health care nurses, later Hospice, a car accident, his death, funeral, remaining out of town for a few months; preparing his house to sell, being the executor of his estate, probate, and closing. Later, back home in South Florida, dealing with Hurricane Irma, damages, power outages, and loss of internet. Therefore, book reviews during May-Sept did not get written or posted.
When choosing my Best 30 Books of 2017, (which is a difficult task), realized I had not written my review when linking the book. Immediately this week, have gone back to the audiobook and listened once again to THE FACT OF A BODY. I highly recommend the audiobook and the second time around experience, was even more powerful than the first.
The emotions are real. A desperate need to understand. Did her parent’s sacrifice their daughter’s welfare for the sake of family stability? Unspeakable crimes. What about Langley? Can the past be left behind? Do we protect the abuser or the victim? A cry for help goes unnoticed.
In Ricky, the author writes her own story. What about Lorelei, Jeremy’s mother? The man who murdered her son? Should he be put to death or spared? The questions and what ifs? Where does the sickness begin?
For me, the author’s personal tragic story is more moving, intimate, and personal than Langleys. Her bravery is commendable and admirable with the difficult subject matter. Vivid descriptions which will remain with you after the book ends. Cannot even imagine having to be around a grandfather which remains in your life, after the unspeakable acts.
Mercy. Forgiveness. Is this humanly possible? An encouragement for others to come forward, which is a timely subject in our cruel world today. An example how we carry our life experiences with us. They influence our opinions and feelings while shaping both our present and future.
Award-winning writing and gracefully rendered. Told with sensitivity and compassion, THE FACT OF A BODY will leave a lasting impression. Each reader will be left with their own individual thoughts of victim and abuser— where the lines are often blurred.
May Must Reads
About the Author
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich is the author of THE FACT OF A BODY: A Murder and a Memoir, which will be published in May 2017 by Flatiron Books (Macmillan) in the US and by publishers internationally. A 2014 National Endowment for the Arts fellow, she has received a Rona Jaffe Award and has twice been a fellow at both MacDowell and Yaddo. Her essays appear in the New York Times, Oxford American, and the anthologies TRUE CRIME and WAVEFORM: Twenty-first Century Essays by Women, as well as many other publications. She received her JD from Harvard, her MFA at Emerson College, and her BA from Columbia University. She now lives in Boston, where she teaches at Grub Street and in the graduate public policy program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Read More