As a law student, Marzano-Lesnevich took pride in her staunch opposition to the death penalty — until she encountered the case of Ricky Langley, a child molester and murderer. Watching the tape of Langley’s confession, she was shocked to find she wanted him to die. But as she investigated his crimes, she discovered his story had strange parallels to her own: a history of abuse, a dead sibling, haunted and broken parents. In an offbeat narrative, she unspools their stories together, resulting in a memoir/true-crime hybrid that stands up to the best of either genre, and will linger in your mind long after the last page.
...surprising, suspenseful, and moving ... The subject matter is difficult, and the author doesn’t shy away from graphic descriptions, but readers are rewarded with a book that defies both its genres, turning into something wholly different and memorable.
The Fact of a Body makes for an uncomfortable read. That’s not a disparagement. The book, a mashup of genres, flings readers into a pit of ominous subject matter and ethical uncertainty ... What sets this book apart from most true crime is that it plays out against the backdrop of the author’s memories of her own childhood trauma ... She writes about her childhood in dream-stippled prose, at once sharp with beauty and lush with horror ... Marzano-Lesnevich writes, 'I have been driven all along by the belief that there is a knot at the heart of the collision between me and Ricky that will help me make sense of what will never be resolved.' No one who reads The Fact of a Body could doubt the author’s sincerity of purpose. But I’m not sure that knot helps us make sense of anything. In the end, her searching, searing account of her own story is far more moving, and far more credible, than her pastiche of the decades-old crime.
Perhaps Marzano-Lesnevich’s battle to claim her own story has led her to claim the stories of others too. In the book’s memoir sections, she writes candidly of her father’s rages, the hidden death of an infant sister, her eating disorder. But in the sections about Langley, she inserts inventive flourishes and fabricated details atop real-life events. Though she has engaged in extensive research to reconstruct the case — Langley’s tragic conception, his twisted development, his hideous crimes — she does not seem to have interviewed the living characters for her book. Instead, she explains, she pored over documentation and then 'layered my imagination onto the bare-bones record of the past to bring it to life.' The result can seem contrived ... Marzano-Lesnevich is at her most powerful when she recounts personal memories.
Marzano-Lesnevich has a wealth of the horrifying, fascinating subject matter that makes for an addictive nonfiction read, and she is smart enough to know it. She gives the people what they want, describing in novelistic detail the semen stains on the murder victim’s shirt and her grandfather taking out his false teeth before he abused her … Like most works of creative nonfiction, The Fact of a Body is obsessed with the dual constraints of truthfulness and artfulness: it becomes, essentially, a compulsive meta-account about resisting the delectable temptation to make things up … Memoirists always run the risk of overwriting, manufacturing connections, grasping at cause and effect, and this weakness permeates both halves of Marzano-Lesnevich’s project … Marzano-Lesnevich, in her performance of hybridity — ‘A Murder and a Memoir’ — is only doing what the best memoirists do: creating a book of fact and body, and speaking, in all their discord, as mother, father, and child.
Among the most luminous moments in the book is the passage in which the dead boy’s mother Lorilei argues in court for mercy for her son’s killer: 'As sure as I hear my child’s death cry, I too, can hear Ricky’s cry for help.' At least some of the author’s desire to blend the two stories comes from this woman’s remarkable compassion, a mystery the author tries to plumb ... Marzano-Lesnevich’s work falters, dramatically, when she dishonors the distinction between the two stories and conflates the narrative threads...By the latter half of the book, a kind of ventriloquism takes over. The word 'maybe' is used to usher in all kinds of scenes that might have occurred, but never did, at least never did with any evidence ... And yet, and yet, and yet: despite serious missteps in some of the story-telling choices, what remains for the reader of The Fact of the Body are two separate tales that possess undeniable power — though it would seem, more so on their own.
Marzano-Lesnevich merges her reportorial and novelistic impulses into a book that bursts with empathy and finely researched detail. With elegant and lyrical prose, she investigates her childhood with the same scrutiny that she uses to research her subject, a man charged with murder, and renders his biography as thoughtfully as her own. What emerges is part memoir, part reportage, and part fiction … The premise of using a child molester and murderer to offset a personal story would be dangerous in the hands of a lesser writer. What saves this book from becoming exploitative is the concern that Marzano-Lesnevich has for her subjects … There is a moral dimension to Marzano-Lesnevich’s project. In one sense, she subscribes to a psychoanalytic model that suggests a powerful force must be spoken and acknowledged for its power to be diminished.
...an absorbing narrative about secrets, pain, revenge, and, ultimately, the slippery notion of truth ... With care and pacing that is sometimes too deliberate, the author reveals the blacknesses in her own family ... A powerful evocation of the raw pain of emotional scars.
Marzano-Lesnevich excels at painting an atmospheric portrait ... The dual narratives are infinitely layered, as Marzano-Lesnevich allows for each person’s motivations and burdens to unspool through the pages. Her writing is remarkably evocative and taut with suspense, with a level of nuance that sets this effort apart from other true crime accounts.