How’s your summer going? Swimmngly? Are you having lots of lighthearted fun and consuming a bunch of breezy vacation reads? Would you like to stop all that nonsense and bring yourself down to earth? Well, have I got the book for you!
If you are ready to remember that life is terrible and truly awful things happen for no reason at all, it’s time that you picked up The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. I am kidding, of course. Well, not about the awful things that happen to people who in no way saw them coming or deserve them – that part is true. This book is strange; a very unique blend of nonfiction, true-crime, and memoir that reads like a novel. The writing is outstanding but it is so dark and oppressive that I slogged my way through it, just wanting it to be over for me and for everyone in the story, because denial really is the only way to get through life.
The author is a young and idealistic new lawyer who goes to New Orleans to intern with a law firm and to defend the indefensible against the death penalty. She becomes involved in the case of Ricky Langley who has been convicted of murdering a child and has a long history of pedophilia (fun so far, right!? Balloon emoji, balloon emoji!). As she gets more involved, she starts to lose her grip on her own beliefs and wants Ricky to be put to death for his crimes.
Alexandria starts to dig into the case, going through evidence and talking to people involved, while at the same time sifting through her own memories and realizing that long dead family secrets will not stay buried. She wraps the story of her life in between her findings of this old crime in a way that creates urgency and emotion as though you are reading a thriller.
There is certainly nothing about summer that says you should only read lighthearted mysteries or stories about girls on Nantucket making terrible decisions, but this book affected me physically and emotionally. Clearly it is brilliant, I am in awe of this achievement, and yet I wish I had waited to pick it up for a cold January day when the inside of me would not have contrasted so sharply with the outside world.
The Fact of a Body is groundbreaking, haunting and beautiful and very, very hard to read. It will not flutter away from you once you have finished it. I read it a month ago and still think about some part of it – how the past always colors the present, about families and their dark murky secrets – every day.
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir – Grade A-