Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir

by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Flatiron Books     2017
322 pages     Memoir

The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich  purports to be two things—a true crime nonfiction narrative and a memoir. In actuality, the memoir is far more engrossing than the true crime, but in combination, the book is so compelling that it will probably go on my list of favorites for the year, primarily because it is genre busting.

A word of caution: The Fact of a Body is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart because it includes murder, pedophilia, and sexual abuse. The author is unsparing in her description of events; her personal story as well as the true crime investigation regarding Ricky Langley, a convicted pedophile and murderer.
Marzano-Lesnevich was a law school student when she went to intern for the summer with a New Orleans law firm that specialized in death penalty cases. Her goal is to fight for the elimination of the death penalty. When she is given information about Ricky Langley and what he did, her beliefs and her worldview is shaken to the core. She cannot believe that she wants Ricky Langley to die. She finds herself questioning the events of her own life through the lens of Ricky Langley's life and deeds. Ricky had mental health issues his whole life and has cried out several times for help through the years. His arrest triggered several trials, which have ended with life in prison without parole.

Alexandria intermingles her own story with Ricky's. As she explores Ricky's life and its secrets, his penchant for young children, and the murder of little 6-year-old Jeremy, she is exposed, once again,  to the secrets of her own family and her own childhood, including the sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of her grandfather. She explores for the first time the things that have caused her lifelong emotional scars—the things have been left unexplored and unsaid—and the reasons why they were left unexplored and unsaid. 

These two narratives are totally compelling alone but best told in combination. The other portion of the book that is unique is the "imagined" way that the author fills in the gaps of Ricky's life. She only met Ricky one time in the prison in Louisiana, but she has the transcripts from the several trials and the impressions of the lawyers. She fills in the blanks, in effect. She says, "While I have not invented or altered any facts, relying instead on the documentation I've used as the primary source for this book, at times I have layered my imagination onto the bare-bones record of the past to bring it to life." All the sources she used are documented at the end of the book.

So, you can see that Marzano-Lesnevich has in effect created a new genre, a genre with which she excels. Her memoir is perhaps a bit more effective than the true crime narrative, but on the whole, the book is riveting and hugely successful. The Kirkus reviewer calls it " a powerful evocation of the raw pain of emotional scars." 

Here is a very interesting interview with Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich.

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