the fact of a body

The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich was hyped a lot recently, so I had to put it on hold through the library. I just finished listening to the audiobook a few days ago. Edited from Goodreads:

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.

I love non-fiction, true crime stories. I find them fascinating, thought-provoking, and great for discussion, and The Fact of a Body is no exception. Marzano-Lesnevich weaves her own experiences during her upbringing with the crimes Ricky Langley committed, and the result is a well-executed, compelling book that reads like a novel. While the murder itself is disturbing, I was also upset by the fact that Langley knew he was a risk to others and needed help, but was ignored left and right by social and prison systems alike.

Marzano-Lesnevich tells her story and how it relates to Langley’s without hyperbole, if read (by her) a little dryly on the audio version. While the writing is beautiful, one thing that didn’t work much for me is that Marzano-Lesnevich takes artistic liberties and goes into impossibly detailed descriptions in her narrative of others’ thoughts, what they were wearing, etc., but to her credit she does admit this and explain why in the notes section. I would have liked to hear how the experience of investigating Langley’s life and crime changed her feelings on the death penalty, and how meeting with him in person went (she mentions that she met him but doesn’t elaborate or describe it).

After reading The Fact of a Body, I thought a lot about memory, what would I do in certain situations, and what society expects regarding punishment, rehabilitation, and social safety nets. Marzano-Lesnevich strikes a wonderful balance between the factual and the emotional. She is analytical and empathetic, and examines how one’s past effects the present. It’s a deeply uncomfortable yet moving book, and it doesn’t sugarcoat dark, confusing, and unfair parts of life. People have secrets, nothing in life is so black-and-white.

Listened to audiobook in August 2017.

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