Review: The Fact of a Body by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich

Title: The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir
Author: Alex Marzano-Lesnevich
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: Before Alex Marzano-Lesnevich began working at a law firm, they thought they were staunchly anti-death penalty. But once they heard convicted murderer Ricky Langley speak on his crimes, they realized they wanted him to die. Shocked by the reaction, they dug into the case, finding Langley’s story unsettlingly and uncannily familiar. An intellectual and emotional thriller as well as a murder mystery, The Fact of a Body explores the intersection of violent crime with personal history. It tackles the nature of forgiveness and if a single narrative can ever really contain the truth. It shows how the law is more personal than we like to believe—and the truth more complicated and powerful than we can imagine.


Note: Alex Marzano-Lesnevich identifies as genderqueer and goes by they-them pronouns but didn’t when the book was published.

I thought I knew the plot of this book before I read it. From the summary, I guessed that the murder in question was of Alex Marzano-Lesnevich’s relative—an aunt, perhaps—referenced in passing enough that they knew she had died but not really how. And so when they hear the “unsettingly, uncannily familiar” confession of Ricky Langley, it sparks a memory which they follow, learning more about the crime from both the murderer’s perspective as well as their family’s.

But that’s not what happens. Uncovered slowly through dual perspective, The Fact of a Body unfurls both Marzano-Lesnevich’s childhood as a sexual abuse survivor with that of Langley, a sexual abuser. For obvious reasons, it’s a hard story to read, but Marzano-Lesnevich is a brilliant writer, and the story flows easily from the murder and its aftermath to their adolescence, from before Langley was born through his childhood to the internship they accept which ultimately introduces them to Langley’s case.

The Fact of a Body flew under the radar when it was published, most likely because neither Ricky Langley nor his crime is well-known, but I hope more people read it. It reminded me very much of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark in that each book focuses on both a crime and the person pursuing that crime and, for both, I wanted to know just as much about the criminal act as I did the person trying to understand the criminal. Marzano-Lesnevich so plainly lays bare their pain and anger that you feel it, too. But they also make room for Langley, for the messy “un-neatness of everything that happened” to him and because of him.

Marzano-Lesnevich opens the book with “a note on source material,” in which they state that The Fact of a Body is “my interpretation of the facts, my rendering, my attempt to piece together this story. As such, this is a book about what happened, yes, but it is also about what we do with what happened.” In an attempt to ask what, the book gives space to both why and how, and we come away better for it.

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