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Publisher's Summary

Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley's face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes - the moment she hears him speak of his crimes - she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.

Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky's childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky's case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets and reckon with a past that colors her view of Ricky's crime.

But another surprise awaits: She wasn't the only one who saw her life in Ricky's.

An intellectual and emotional thriller that is also a different kind of murder mystery, The Fact of a Body is an audiobook not only about how the story of one crime was constructed - but about how we grapple with our own personal histories. Along the way it tackles questions about the nature of forgiveness and if a single narrative can ever really contain something as definitive as the truth. This groundbreaking, heart-stopping work, 10 years in the making, shows how the law is more personal than we would like to believe - and the truth more complicated and powerful than we could ever imagine.

©2017 Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (P)2017 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

"This book is a marvel. The Fact of a Body is equal parts gripping and haunting and will leave you questioning whether any one story can hold the full truth." (Celeste Ng, author of the New York Times best-selling Everything I Never Told You)

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  • Margaret
  • San Francisco, CA USA
  • 05-22-17

Memoir of Molestation

Let me start by saying that the writing style of the author was so deliberately erudite and MFA-ish that it distracted me from the stories she had to tell. There was never a tree, but always a steady oak against the yellow palette of the autumn sky. Not a filing cabinet, a white metal filing cabinet with each dent lovingly deliniated. Exhausting to listen to after a while.

Further, the reader is treated to a specific example of each feeling--a buzzing in my head, pressure in my chest, my limbs tingled--to such an extent--seemed like almost every page--that I started to get fed up and long for a simple declarative, "I felt," but it was not to be. I think people who like Elizabeth Gilbert's writing will find this memoir right in the sweet spot, but I found it hard to decide how I felt with all the overly descriptive, wordy explanations of the author's feelings. It read to me that authenticity was substituted for the display of a very expensive education (name drop: Harvard).

There's another rule that someone should add to MFA curriculums that would have helped me greatly with this one: leave room for the reader.

66 of 70 people found this review helpful

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Profoundly Depressing and Ethically Problematic Storytelling

The author has every reason to convey the awful reality of what was done to her as a child. And that's mostly what you get - an exceedingly drawn out victim narrative.

The true crime connection to Ricky's story is interesting but not enough to sustain an entire book. This probably would've been more effective as a feature article in a magazine.

Finally, the author take SIGNIFICANT liberties in speaking for others, which I found ethically problematic. She tries to justify her "imagining" other victim's and criminal's thoughts by citing trial transcripts, news articles, and a play(!?) ... Nonetheless, it's troubling to call these sections of the book "non-fiction" and I'm surprised the editors and publisher didn't hold her more accountable for that.

26 of 30 people found this review helpful

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Where does a story begin?

Marzano-Lesnevich does a fine job of laying bare her own childhood abuse in this emotionally powerful memoir. Assigned to assist in the defense of a pedophile who murdered a 6 yr.old boy, Marzano-Lesnevich recounts her experience of working as a lawyer on a case that was prosecuted in the public eye, weighted against her own story of childhood sexual abuse. During the process, the lawyer's pursuit of facts collides with her own recollections of abuse and triggers an urgent need to look beyond what is known. From a life-long search for "Why?" she eloquently and profoundly points out that how you begin the story, the *casual chain,* decides the meaning of the story. But does it change the facts?

Imagine the weight the victim of abuse might take upon themselves when years later they discover their abuser was also once the victim: Where and How you begin the story. Does it begin with the crash, the death of a triplet, the abuse of a little boy that would grow up and molest; the boy who grew up fearing his deviant urges? This is the point, when our hearts and brains slam against each other in total conflict... "hate the sin, love the sinner..." HOW? Beyond solution, here is where we look to the law to make what sense, if any, what justice, what precautions, what reparations and realize our best efforts are often grossly lacking.

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir is not just a memoir, it's a piece of the author. Ambitious, somber, heartbreaking, brave. I respect the bravery it must have taken for Marzano-Lesnevich to tell her story. Her self-examination is painful to read. The times she struggles to love the grandfather that cared for her, then betrayed her, are gut-wrenching. Hearing that little girl try to make sense of such betrayal will affect the reader, so I have to warn those who might be working on their own issues, this may not yet be the book for you to read. Eventually, Marzano-Lesnevich's courage and triumph might be a source of support or encouragement.

It's obvious for the reader to have compassion for the child victims -- both the young Alexandria, who now stands before the reader as an interning lawyer, and 6-year-old Jeremy, who was murdered. It's unfathomable that by the end, you might look at that repulsive old *Grandpa* that terrorized his granddaughters and see him long ago as the little defenseless boy being brutally molested himself; or wonder how mental illness should be weighed in such a case.

What comes across is a very intellectual novel, almost a given with the author's scholastic achievements. Between the words, I felt Marzano-Lesnevich intellectualizing, sometimes struggling to stay in her head with a story that was experienced on a cellular level. The book is strongest when the moments let the reader feel, rather than having the author micro-manage our emotions with an avalanche of descriptors. When your mind has to read the many descriptors the authors lose control of your own response. I think had Marzano-Lesnevich trusted her readers a little more, reading could have been experienced --
as far as that's possible in such matters. The erudition became a buffer and a hindrance, something Audible reviewer Magaret points out very well. But, I completely admire Marzano-Lesnevich's talent and choices and share only my impressions without judgment.

So much of Marzano-Lesnevich's memoir is emotionally experienced during multiple lives at multiple times that it can be difficult to stay with the author. She is a child, a victim, a lover, a lawyer, a detective, an observer in different lives, and though she transitions well between these roles, you need to stay very clear headed -- hard to do when you are experiencing so much of her journey with your heart. Beautifully written, graciously told, difficult subject matter.

24 of 28 people found this review helpful

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  • C. Telfair
  • Shepherdstown, WV, United States
  • 05-25-17

On 'Creative NonFiction'

This is a very powerful book. Interspersing the story of a child molester and killer with that of the author's early abuse delivers something of a double whammy. Should an offender's background and rearing be taken into account? Can a family function with a molester at its core? How do silence and avoidance of the issue add up to enabling?

This is nonfiction in the same way many movies nowadays are described as "based on a true story". The listener can assume that the author's own story did happen as described, but the drama of the child killing and killer is not as straight-forward. Obviously, Ms Marzano-Lesnevich cannot know what the accused and his family thought and felt - how their minds worked and what their emotional reactions were. Any such crime undeniably has immense consequences for all those involved, be they the victim's or the perpetrator's families and friends. But, despite the obvious research into Ricky's side of the story, we cannot know for certain that the author's descriptions are strictly "true".

The writer of "Creative Nonfiction" takes all these things into account in presenting a coherent dramatic story. In this case, she uses the story of the child-killing in a way that complements her own experience of hidden abuse and cover-up. She writes feelingly and eloquently but neither in the direct style of a journalist or with the freedom of a novelist.

Both stories are very affecting, but the details and motives of one side are less "fact" than the other. This sort of "nonfiction" is firmly established as a genre now, but it still brings up questions of just what we're looking at here. The author's descriptions of her childhood suffering and the equal pain of the betrayal of her parents in covering up the actions and the consequences are sufficient, in my mind, to justify a book. Her treatment of the other side of the story, for me, is muddied with confusion.

I think, in this case, that it was no advantage to have the author narrating. Her delivery doesn't really add any emotional impact, and her diction and pacing are not those of a good professional.

Mixed feelings on this one!

15 of 19 people found this review helpful

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It's Not About You

There are two narratives here, one of them unheard: (a) the murder of a little boy, and (b) the molestation of the author by her grandfather.

Author Marzano-Lesnevich uses the story of Jeremy's murder and Langley’s trials as a vehicle for the telling of her own story of childhood abuse. She delves extensively into the personal background of murderer Ricky Langley, even to the point of examining the somewhat mysterious circumstances surrounding his conception and pre-natal development. Her own story is laid out in painfully graphic detail.

Where is the story of little Jeremy Guillory? His murder is the heart of this shameful episode and yet, here we are, examining the author’s family history and her soul-searching quest for the reason she wants to see the murderer executed. Of Ricky Langley, we learn far more than we ever wanted to know.

The author narrates her own book, nearly always a mistake. Her delivery is tedious, draggy, annoying. Much relieved to see that she eventually corrected her mispronunciation of "petichae” from "pet-e-kay", a rather glaring error for a Harvard graduate and practising lawyer.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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I think maybe Therapy would be better for the author

The book is so disjointed and confusing. I hope the author finds herself a good therapist to help her put her chaos into understanding. I have not found a book so hard to follow and somewhat selfish in the content she uses to tell her story.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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True Crime Meets Heartbreaking Memoir

Once I started listening to The Fact of a Body on audio, I couldn’t stop. I knew it was a true story about a murder, but I didn’t know how much more it was going to be or how much I’ve always been looking for this story. In 1992, a 6-year-old boy was murdered in Louisiana. Years later, law student Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich went on a quest to understand the convicted murderer’s mind in order to answer questions from her own past. If you’ve ever had the experience of learning that someone close to you has done something unthinkable, this is a fascinating, difficult, and special story. The author does her own narration, and she treats the story so delicately that I was able to handle it on audio.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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eh so so

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

Those who are interested in personal accounts of childhood sexual abuse.

What was most disappointing about Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s story?

The facts about the crime are interesting, detailed, and clearly well-researched. Unfortunately, I estimate more than half of the book is a personal narrative of the author's personal experience of childhood sexual abuse--these parts drag on and give too much uninteresting detail that leaves one's mind wandering before hitting fast forward. I finally stopped listening all together when the author starts talking in graphic detail about her current sex life--it basically switches to an autobiographical porn. No clue how the book ends since I stopped listening.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Gillian
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 05-18-17

A Bit Haunting; A Bit Exasperating

"The Fact of a Body" is really gripping listening, for a while. And then you realize it's mostly about Marzano-Lesnevich's search to come to grips with childhood molestation and all that such a horror entails. Indeed, you come away from the book feeling that it's far more horrific to have lived through such a thing than to be brutally strangled, garroted with a wire, had a sock stuffed down your throat, and then had your nostrils pinched until you're dead.
She constantly holds up her molestation to little Jeremy's murder as though they're of equal weight. I get it, really I do. What happened to her leaves scars, literally, figuratively, most definitely spiritually. But the book is mostly about how she is coming to terms with being in her body, less about the true horror of the crime Ricky committed.
If you're ready to look at a pedophile most sympathetically, this book is for you. It's the most humane treatment of a criminal I've listened to in, well, I've never seen pedophiles addressed as anything but the most heinous of villains.
If you want to know what childhood molestation does to a psyche, what it does to a life, this book is definitely for you.
If you want to see what the differences are, the likenesses between the two? Well, that's where it falters a bit. It leans heavily on the personal, with Jeremy as barely more than a footnote to her pain.
Then too, when we come to the source notes at the very end, we find that, while much of it, the book, was based on recorded sources, much more of it, the engaging part, was based on the author's imagination.
Make of it what you will. Haunting, but really. Her therapist needs to work more intensively with her as this is what it is: A venting of rage, a song of sorrow. For herself, not Jeremy.

20 of 30 people found this review helpful

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Meticulous, sordid, poetic.

I'm always up for a good thriller, and in tnis brilliant book, there surely is one, but it took place in the hearts, minds and souls of the people within, and ultimately in mine. The story begins with a pedophile molesting and then killing a child, practically under the noses of the child's family and neighbors. How? The book, if it does nothing else, gives insight into how and why our beliefs and our own lives cause us to see and feel, or not to see and feel.

I don't think I've ever experienced a story like this, and indeed, Alexandria Marzano-Leonevich, who places her life before us, studied law, and writing, and did meticulous research before she told it.

Through the chapters, I wondered at her insistence at seeing every photograph, visiting every grave, talking to every person thst she could, but at the conclusion, I realized that the depth of insight into her own life, the killer's, the victims and the lawyers could not lt be reached without such immersion.

Ms. Marzano-Leonevich's reading was everything we could hope for, as she was moved by her own words, telling her own story. The writing contains moments of poetry.

No matter what your favorite genre, give this book your attention. It's bigger and more than it seems.

5 of 8 people found this review helpful