STARRED REVIEW
May 2017

A case that hit uncomfortably close to home

By Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Review by

During a summer internship in Louisiana in 2003, Harvard law student Alexandria Marzano-Les­nevich heard about a case involving a pedophile who murdered a 6-year-old boy in 1992. When she watched the recorded confession of Ricky Langley, she writes that it “brought me to reexamine everything I believed not only about the law but about my family and my past.”

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During a summer internship in Louisiana in 2003, Harvard law student Alexandria Marzano-Les­nevich heard about a case involving a pedophile who murdered a 6-year-old boy in 1992. When she watched the recorded confession of Ricky Langley, she writes that it “brought me to reexamine everything I believed not only about the law but about my family and my past.”

Marzano-Lesnevich lays out that re-examination in her unusual and riveting book, The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, in which she interweaves the story of Langley’s crime with her own personal trauma.

The author, the daughter of two lawyers, grew up in a New Jersey family that was loving but refused to look back at the past. Problems such as her father’s depression and the death of Alexandria’s triplet baby sister were rarely, if ever, discussed. Marzano-Lesnevich, however, couldn’t stop looking back. Her grandfather sexually abused her and her sisters, and her parents tried to bury this fact. Later, they tried to ignore her anger. Despite this and other challenges, including tumultuous years spent dealing with undiagnosed Lyme disease and an eating disorder, Marzano-Les­nevich made a “Hail Mary pass to the future” by enrolling in Harvard Law School.

Marzano-Lesnevich’s triumph is in the way she simultaneously tells her story and Langley’s, showing how in both cases the past haunts the present, and how facts, memories, guilt, responsibility and forgiveness can be impossibly hard to pinpoint or fully understand. Her recounting of her grandfather’s abuse is a haunting exposé of what it feels like to be a victim. And while Langley will spend his life in prison, her grandfather, she writes, “got away with it.”

The author tells Langley’s story by reconstructing scenes based on court documents, transcripts, media coverage and even a play based on the case. She also relies heavily on the “creative” part of creative nonfiction—a method some may question—layering her “imagination onto the bare-bones record of the past to bring Langley’s past to life.”

Both stories are gripping enough in their own right to fill a book; Marzano-Lesnevich’s artful entwining enriches them both.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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The Fact of a Body

The Fact of a Body

By Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Flatiron
ISBN 9781250080547

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