“It is always possible that the solution to one mystery will solve another.”
So begins The Fact Of A Body: A Murder And A Memoir, American author and lawyer Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s multilayered work that, as the subtitle implies, is both an account of a true crime and a memoir of her childhood.
Early on, Marzano-Lesnevich makes it known that the murder in her book revolves around paedophile Ricky Langley, who rapes and murders six-year-old Jeremy Guillory in Louisiana, in 1992. Langley is eventually convicted and sentenced to death in 1994, but after appeals on the grounds of insanity and a re-trial, his sentence was commuted to life in prison in 2009.
In 2003, Marzano-Lesnevich is in a group of interns at a law firm that is played a recording of Langley’s confession. Both her parents are lawyers, so Marzano-Lesnevich grew up with the staunch belief that the death penalty is wrong, that everyone should have a fair trial and, if convicted, be given a dignified sentence that doesn’t cause death. But she has a very different reaction to Langley and his crimes: The more she discovers about the case and the horrific and brutal acts Langley committed against little Jeremy, the more she finds herself wanting Langley dead.
At this juncture this reviewer was left confused by Marzano-Lesnevich’s change of heart. Which is not surprising, as at the time the author herself was confused by her about turn on a lifelong belief and the passionate need to condemn this man to death.
Moving from the murder to the memoir portion of her book, we discover the reason: As Marzano-Lesnevich researched the Langley case in depth – reading about the rape and brutal murder of Jeremy and watching hours of interviews with Langley on tape – memories of her own body being sexually violated by her maternal grandfather when she was a child resurfaces.
While it was bad enough having to deal with the molestation, once his behaviour came to light, Marzano-Lesnevich writes frankly about having to also deal with the lack of support and coldness from her parents during this dark period in her life. “The way to move forward from this atrocity was to bury it and pretend it never happened,” she writes.
Though her molestation and Langley’s trial are two separate things that occurred in different parts of the country and at different times, Marzano-Lesnevich intertwines the two stories into one captivating narrative.
Though there were moments when I came close to losing track of the narrative – Marzano-Lesnevich moves from the present to the time of the Langley trial in the 1990s and back to her childhood – the author’s clear, accessible writing saved the day.
Through her research of the Langley trial, Marzano-Lesnevich manages to solve her own mystery and make peace with herself and her family.
While she keeps her emotional trauma at arm’s length – kudos to her for not asking her reader for pity in any way or form for what happened to her and her family’s reaction to her ordeal – the downside of The Fact Of A Body: A Murder And A Memoir is the Langley murder trial where Marzano-Lesnevich tends to veer off into legalese. The language she uses may make sense to her as a lawyer but it can be baffling for those of us who are not well-versed in (American) legal jargon.
The choice of some of its language aside, The Fact Of A Body: A Murder And A Memoir is a riveting, haunting, heart-breaking, and unique hybrid of a book. Pick this up and you will be mesmerised by this multi-genre piece of work.
The Fact Of A Body: A Murder And A Memoir
Author: Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Publisher: Flatiron Books, true crime nonfiction