Where does a story begin? That’s the question at the heart of The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. Does each of us begin at the moment of our own birth? Is that negating the contributions of the lives of our parents? If the story stops there, aren’t we in danger of leaving out and forgetting everything that came before?
So while on the surface this seems like the tale of two separate lives which only intersected tangentially, out of mere happenstance, by the end of the book you’ll be asking yourself philosophical questions about the very nature of our deeply intertwined humanity.
This is the non-fiction tale of Ricky Langley who in a tiny Louisiana town in 1992 molested and killed 6 year old Jeremy Guillory, a crime for which he would later be convicted. Or maybe that’s not exactly how it happened. We get to delve deeply into the varied and often conflicting versions which seem to shift and change shape, as I mentioned before, depending on where you start.
This is also the story of the author herself. As a freshly graduated lawyer she encounters Langley’s taped confession. Her former lofty belief in the wrongness of the death penalty instantly crumbles, as she realizes she wants this man to die. The experience will ultimately change the entire course of her career, and also cause her to go on a journey into both Langley’s past and her own.
Because this story doesn’t just start with Ricky Langley either. It also begins with the author’s own childhood abuse at the hands of her grandfather. As we travel back and forth from her life and her family’s attempts to live in a glossy world with no introspection, slowly being eaten from the inside out with unresolved pain, to her investigation into Langley’s life and crimes, patterns and parallels start to emerge.
I will say, if you’ve experienced sexual abuse and are easily triggered this is not the book for you. I personally believe in facing “triggers” head on, but at certain points I had to set this book aside and run out to gulp the fresh air, letting the sunlight burn away the past.
Part true crime story, part wrenching autobiographic confessional, Marzano-Lesnevich has accomplished something here that I’ve never quite seen before. Her hauntingly beautiful writing elevates this far above the tabloid t.v. fodder it could have become. It’s the kind of book that’s hard to put down, though you may feel the need to wash your hands afterward. Yet it also carries a kind of hope, that by looking the complicated past directly in the eye we may be able to steal back the power it has over us and set the future free.
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir is available from Flatiron Books