Book Review: The The Fact Of A Body

Rating 4½ stars. Genre: memoir and true crime

When a young and idealistic Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins her summer internship at a Louisiana law firm, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. Since she was a child, she’d disagreed vehemently with the idea of death as punishment. Her job over the summer is to help save lives, including working on the retrial defence of a convicted murderer and child abuser named Ricky Langley.

And yet, the moment she sees Ricky’s face on the screen, the moment she hears him speak of his crimes, she realises that she wants him to die.

How do you reconcile a foundational belief with an almost primal reaction to a man seemingly happy to acknowledge his own monstrous nature? For Marzano-Lesnevich, solace came through trying to understand her reaction to Langley’s story. The more she searched, the more she came to realise that there was something in Langley’s story that was far too familiar.

‘The Fact Of A Body’ is a story that deals with monsters, yes, but such dealings are more about unmasking them and showing their humanity than in isolating them. It’s a haunting, devastating work of brutal honesty, with parts that are bound to make you cry and rage. The stories here are heartbreaking, intertwined by a simple choice, or perhaps a quirk of fate. Any other law firm, and Marzano-Lesnevich would have likely never encountered Langley’s story, after all.

There is, of course, a trigger warning at play here. This is a book that deals frankly with issues of child abuse and murder, and Marzano-Lesnevich is unflinchingly honest about the acts being discussed, even if she tries to avoid going into vastly graphic detail. It’s unsettling, heartbreaking, reading at times. ‘The Fact Of A Body’ is an act of catharsis in many ways, a stepping away from the past and into the future for the author, an act of hope in amongst a conversation around horrifying events.

And that’s where its power as a work of writing lies. In a lesser writer’s hands, perhaps this would have simply been another story, just another blending of narratives for the sake of it. And yet, instead we have a staggering work of beauty and darkness, an almost fairy-tale like other world that, when you’re brave enough to make yourself remember it, isn’t some magical other, but the place in which we all live. The most terrifying works of horror, after all, remind us that they’re possible in the world we actually inhabit.

It’s not an easy read, certainly, but for those able to brave the subject matter, it’s easily one of the most confronting, thought provoking works of truth-telling of the year.

Revewi by Kylie Thompson

‘The Fact Of A Body’ is published by Pan Macmillan, and is available at leading retailers online and off.

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