The Fact of a Body takes a true crime and makes it something more. By bringing her own life and history into the story of convicted murderer Ricky Langley, the author makes it tangible. It’s no longer a television special that can be muted at the unthinking push of a button. Marzano-Lesnevich is forced to confront the turmoil in her own past.
The daughter of lawyers, the author found the choice of profession all but inevitable. She excels in law school and lands an internship at a firm in Louisiana that is trying to overturn a death penalty sentence. Until this point she has been against capital punishment — but in the sultry Southern summer she is faced with real-life evidence and she begins to question the personal conviction she thought was simple.
In reviewing Langley’s childhood and then his criminal record, she has to reconcile his past with her own — and she has to grapple with the possibility that she might have had a far less prosperous life than she did had circumstances been just a bit different.
New Jersey, 1985
Weeks pass, months, a year, and the memory of that strange backward afternoon my mother ran across the lawn crying , the sound of my grandfather on the stairs at night, both sit inside me like a summer cocoon, sheltered up tight against the heat. I’m holding my breath from the inside, trying to keep what there from starting to ignite. … The silence works like that. It’s not fragile. It shields the glittering moments and the confusing ones too. Such as the times my throat gets parched in the middle of the might, and I brave the dark stairs to go down to the kitchen for a glass of water. ~ Pg. 53
The narrative moves quickly and Marzano-Lesnevich’s writing is fantastically defiant. She writes with vivid detail, yet doesn’t oversaturate it. Readers should be aware that this book deals with difficult topics. What is so admirable is the way the author manages to present and look at them, unflinchingly, without being graphic. The book approaches with an even-handedness that exposes the truth without allowing the book to become mired in it. It’s difficult to say more without giving away important details and I desperately want readers to let it open up layer by layer as it did for me.
Those looking for a true crime story with personal stakes and genuine, complication emotion need to read The Fact of a Body.
My thanks to Amelia at Macmillan for the galley copy.
A Murder and a Memoir
By Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Flatiron Books (May 16, 2017)