The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir

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―s...

Title:The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:1250080541
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:326 pages

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir Reviews

  • Mike Scalise

    If you are a fan of true crime, this book is excellent. If you are a fan of memoir, this book is excellent. If you are a fan of legal thrillers, this book is excellent. If you are a fan of beautiful language, this book is excellent. If you are a fan of page-turners, this book is excellent. If you are a fan of boundlessly empathetic storytelling and brilliant questions about the meaning of acceptance, this book is excellent. If you are a fan of a scene in which one character manages, maybe, to ha

    If you are a fan of true crime, this book is excellent. If you are a fan of memoir, this book is excellent. If you are a fan of legal thrillers, this book is excellent. If you are a fan of beautiful language, this book is excellent. If you are a fan of page-turners, this book is excellent. If you are a fan of boundlessly empathetic storytelling and brilliant questions about the meaning of acceptance, this book is excellent. If you are a fan of a scene in which one character manages, maybe, to have sex while in a body cast, this book is excellent. If you are a fan of all of these things together, you have to read this book. It is excellent.

  • Liz Barnsley

    The Fact of a Body was less a non fiction narrative and more a work of art – I don’t think I have been sucked into a book in the way this one sucked me in for a good long while. Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich writes with such a beautiful, haunting quality that gets over so many layers of emotional depth whilst still keeping it factual and real, that you can one moment be feeling like you are watching events unfold in real time and the next sobbing like a baby at one small sentence that says everyt

    The Fact of a Body was less a non fiction narrative and more a work of art – I don’t think I have been sucked into a book in the way this one sucked me in for a good long while. Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich writes with such a beautiful, haunting quality that gets over so many layers of emotional depth whilst still keeping it factual and real, that you can one moment be feeling like you are watching events unfold in real time and the next sobbing like a baby at one small sentence that says everything.

    At the heart of it all is not only this killer, Ricky Langley, but also the author herself as she delves into her own mind and her own history in an attempt to understand that which cannot be understood. She takes you along on a journey of discovery, one of unpalatable realities, poignant self realisation and historical influence, it is at turns heart breaking, utterly riveting and melancholy, get ready to be hooked, unable to look away.

    The Fact of a Body often reads like a literary thriller, I found myself remembering with a jolt that these were real people living real lives – the author shows the mundane routine of living, alongside the telling events that informed eventual acts, alongside the things that cannot be explained no matter how much we may wish for a reason. Throughout the whole of the telling there are moments of quiet, occasional times you step away from the read and absorb what you have just learned – the historical detail, the absolute compassion with which the author allows the “characters” in this drama to live and breathe on the page is just stunning in its intensity. And we must not forget she is one of them – and does not hide from her own horrors simply lays them bare before us.

    This is a tangled, beautiful, intelligently told true story that will surprise you, an unravelling of human nature, a truly incredible look at the power of memory, the influences of life experience and that which we hide from ourselves – as well as that it is a truly compelling and absolutely gripping crime story and family memoir.

    I really cannot recommend this highly enough.

  • Susan

    It is hard to categorise this book – partly, it is the disturbing story of a murder, but it is much more than that. Part memoir, written almost as a novel, this is a painful, thoughtful account of a crime and how it affected those involved , but also how it changed the life of author Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. The author is the daughter of a lawyer and, as long as she can remember, she recalls being fascinated by the law. At the age of twenty five, she went to New Orleans to fight the death p

    It is hard to categorise this book – partly, it is the disturbing story of a murder, but it is much more than that. Part memoir, written almost as a novel, this is a painful, thoughtful account of a crime and how it affected those involved , but also how it changed the life of author Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. The author is the daughter of a lawyer and, as long as she can remember, she recalls being fascinated by the law. At the age of twenty five, she went to New Orleans to fight the death penalty, by interning with a law firm that represented people accused of murder.

    The author believed her views and opinions were set in stone, but then she meets Ricky Langley, who is facing the death penalty for the murder of six year old Jeremy Guillory. Jeremy was the son of a single mother, Lorilei; who was pregnant with her second child when Jeremy went missing. Marzano-Lesnevich entwines the story of Lorilei and Jeremy, with that of Ricky Langley and with that of her own life.

    I have no wish to give spoilers in this review and you need to read this book in order to discover the links between those involved. However, this is a book about how the past impacts the present. About how families have secrets and how life is not as clear cut as we imagine it to be. There are grey areas which, unlike in a novel, are not easily wrapped up, completed, finished or put away. We carry our life experiences with us and they colour our opinions, shape our present and influence our future. This is a beautifully written, very moving book, in which every person touched by events are dealt with sympathetically and with respect. I am glad that I read it. I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

  • Emma

    Blending the best facets of history and historical fiction writing, this memoir of both the factual and imagined past bring alive the murder of a young boy, Jeremy Guillory, by a confessed pedophile, alongside the author's own sexual abuse by her grandfather. It's not easy reading but it's exceptionally well written. Despite having an opposition to capital punishment that was fundamental to her decision to study law, her introduction to this death penalty case while working as intern led Marzano

    Blending the best facets of history and historical fiction writing, this memoir of both the factual and imagined past bring alive the murder of a young boy, Jeremy Guillory, by a confessed pedophile, alongside the author's own sexual abuse by her grandfather. It's not easy reading but it's exceptionally well written. Despite having an opposition to capital punishment that was fundamental to her decision to study law, her introduction to this death penalty case while working as intern led Marzano-Lesnevich to a difficult decision, that she actually wanted this particular man to die. Her personal experience and her obsession with this case interweave as a journey towards understanding.

    Above all, the book addresses the complexities inherent in evaluating our own histories and those of others. Truth is a slippery concept, our memories change, stories are modified, facts are chosen for the narrative we wish to present or to hide things we wish to forget. As the author says, where we start the story can affect how we feel about the ending. Ricky Langley admits to killing Jeremy, but does it matter if he didn't mean to? What if he was abused as a child himself? What if he abused Jeremy before killing him? What if he repeatedly asked for help, to be put away or killed before he harmed a child, and never received any help? What if he was psychotic at the time? Do these things change how we feel about his crime? In the law courts each side presents the best version for their case, it's the jury's job to decide which is more true. This book asks us whether this things matter and whether someone should die for the crimes they've committed. It asks whether all the extra bits matter. It demands a personal response: what would we do? What do we think? Fittingly, I had a layered and uncertain response to the complexity the author presents. Ricky Langley's crimes made me feel sick, I can only imagine the pain and confusion of Jeremy's experience. His death necessitates a just punishment. And yet, it would never have happened if Langley hadn't been brushed off by multiple authorities when he asked for help. I think Langley knew what he was doing was wrong, I think he would never have stopped unless someone stopped him, and I think someone should have done it before a child was horrifically murdered. Does he deserve to die for that? Maybe. I don't disagree with the death penalty on principle but I wouldn't want to be part of it myself, and that's more than hypocritical enough to be a problem. I leave the book with more questions than answers, about myself as much as anything else.

    While she has constructed her own narrative for the purposes of the book, Marzano-Lesnevich has tried to be as open as possible about the multitude of stories and sources that form the story as well as the limits of memory. In imagining the bits in-between she has given the reader a clearer 'what might have been' than lists of facts could achieve. It has an ancient precedent, Thucydides sought evidence for his work but also used imagined speeches in his

    , filling them with 'what was called for by each situation'. It allows us to think of the life and emotion involved, arguably as important as bare bones detail. It certainly leaves a lasting impression, and makes this one of the most thought provoking books i've read in a long time.

    ARC via Netgalley.

  • Diane S ☔

    4+. Powerful and emotionally raw, I have never read anything quite like this before. Pedophiles and the harm they cause, the lasting effects on their victims, whether in family or without, the subject makes this a difficult book to read. As a law student the author comes across a case involving the death of a six year old and the offender, at the time on death row, a young man named Ricky. Although she doesn't believe in the death penalty she is shocked to find how much she wants this man to die

    4+. Powerful and emotionally raw, I have never read anything quite like this before. Pedophiles and the harm they cause, the lasting effects on their victims, whether in family or without, the subject makes this a difficult book to read. As a law student the author comes across a case involving the death of a six year old and the offender, at the time on death row, a young man named Ricky. Although she doesn't believe in the death penalty she is shocked to find how much she wants this man to die. It triggers memories of the abuse within her own family and she sets out to understand​, both Ricky's case and her own family and what lived within the confines of supposed love.

    This story is so personal, we feel as if we are travelling with her as she makes her discoveries, witness her pain and anguish, feel with her as she tries to understand. The secrets held in her own family, passed down through generations, and her attempt to understand what makes someone sexually prey on others. The subject matter maybe a trigger for some, it is quite vividly presented, often looked at through the eyes of the child she was, absolutely devastating and heartbreaking.

    I do believe stories like these need to be told, not just as a catharis for the teller but as a way to bring these things out in the open, start a dialogue so others are not afraid to speak. Narrative nonfiction, mixed with a memoir and even some fiction writing, but it is done skillfully and honestly.

  • Elyse

    "The Fact of a body: A Murder and a Memoir".....the title of this book becomes an 'acute awareness' of what this book is about - -the deeper we are pulled into this debut:

    This book is about a real murder that happened in the year 1992. A six year old child, Jeremy Guillory, was molested and murdered by Ricky Langley.

    This book is also a Memoir. We get a very personal -intimate -' private-as-private-is', up and close 'factual' and 'emotional' account from what author Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

    "The Fact of a body: A Murder and a Memoir".....the title of this book becomes an 'acute awareness' of what this book is about - -the deeper we are pulled into this debut:

    This book is about a real murder that happened in the year 1992. A six year old child, Jeremy Guillory, was molested and murdered by Ricky Langley.

    This book is also a Memoir. We get a very personal -intimate -' private-as-private-is', up and close 'factual' and 'emotional' account from what author Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich shares with us about her life.

    While the 'facts' are being spelled out to us -- a crime investigation over a 10 year period - and 'specifics' about why, what, when, and how things were for Alexandria Mariano-Lesnevich....become much more than 'facts' to us.

    Reading this book SHAKES YOU - It RATTLES our insides.

    One of the most powerful-moments for me -- written beautiful- was 'very' personal.

    The author had just shared about 'coming out'. She was gay. She was in bed with her partner - in the beginnings of sex. Sex was going terrific- until it wasn't. Alexandria was going under, into a memory. I MUST HAVE READ THIS SECTION 4 or 5 times....

    a couple of pages.....I've HAD SIMILAR EXPERIENCES......( I'm not talking about sex - I'm not gay and I've never been molested)..... I'm talking about a memory taking you under: - it's a 'strong- stronger than strong' feeling.

    I haven't had that experience in years..... but I've never read ANYONE describe the experience like Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich did in this book:

    "Where does the mind go in these moments, while the body trembles? For me it is a white-hot slipstream blank-out, the nothingness I have no time and nowhere and no one. It use to be a feeling, a single concentrated excruciating feeling: ........."

    I'm NOT GOING TO SHARE ALEXANDRIA'S SPECIFIC MEMORY IN THIS REVIEW..... it's too personal....

    But......here is another 'part' of this past memory. An overwhelming memory can come on strong taking power away from whatever present moment a person finds themselves in:

    ....."But as the years have blotted the origin out - I am grateful- they have a blotted the sensations, too, as though the film reel of the memory has been played so many times it has gone torn and blotched".

    It's very hard to put this book down - it's raw - it pulls on your heartstrings - but after I finished reading it - I went back to the beginning and had questions about this excerpt:

    "As such, this is a book about what happened, yes, but it is also about what we do with what happened. It is about a murder, it is about my family, it is about other families whose lives were touched by the murder. But more than that, much more than that, it is about how we understand our lives, the past, and each other. To do this, we all make stories."

    "We all make stories"......hm??? So what stories were made up in this book? I don't know. It's this line .... "we all make stories"... that left me with an 'after-thought' about this book. I was definitely 'sucked in' from beginning to end....but I started to wonder if perhaps parts of this book were possibly overstated. I have no way of knowing but doubt began to enter my mind. I still was turning the pages heavily though!

    Very unique fusion style of story blending

    4 stars

  • Barbara

    "The Fact of a Body" melds the true crime story of child molester/murderer Ricky Langley with Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich's tale of being sexually abused as a child.

    In 1992, Louisiana resident Ricky Langley killed his six-year-old neighbor, Jeremy Guillory, and - after being convicted by a jury

    "The Fact of a Body" melds the true crime story of child molester/murderer Ricky Langley with Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich's tale of being sexually abused as a child.

    In 1992, Louisiana resident Ricky Langley killed his six-year-old neighbor, Jeremy Guillory, and - after being convicted by a jury - was sentenced to death. During his retrial a decade later Langley was defended by Clive Stafford Smith, a staunch opponent of capital punishment whose law firm specializes in death penalty cases. This time Langley got life in prison. (Note: Ricky had yet a third trial, years later, and was once again sentenced to life.)

    After Langley's second trial, in 2003, Harvard law student Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich - who opposes the death penalty - became a summer intern at Clive Stafford Smith's law firm in New Orleans. During her orientation, the intern was shown Langley's taped confession from 1992, in which the murderer - a diminutive man with coke bottle glasses and jug ears - graphically described the crime.....and talked about molesting children: "Sometimes I, you know, rub my penis on them."

    Marzano-Lesnevich's mind immediately snapped back to her childhood. She recalled how, from the time she was 3-years-old, her grandfather - when babysitting - would steal into her bedroom. He'd tug up her nightgown, pull down her panties, undo his fly.....and then her mind would go someplace else as she stared at her yellow lampshade.

    While Marzano-Lesnevich was watching Langley's tape, she wanted the child molester to die.

    After completing law school Marzano-Lesnevich decided not to practice law. Instead, she became a writer, and elected to tell Ricky Langley's story.....and her own.

    To make sense of Ricky's life and behavior the author thoroughly researched his history - going all the way back to the courtship and marriage of his parents, Bessie and Alcide. The writer learned that Ricky was conceived while Bessie was in a full body cast after a horrific car crash - an accident that killed two of the Langleys small children. Bessie was drinking heavily and taking a cornucopia of drugs while expecting Ricky - and was advised to terminate the pregnancy. Bessie refused, and gave birth to a boy who had problems all his life.

    Marzano-Lesnevich narrates the story of Ricky's life. As a child he lived with a semi-invalid mother (her leg was amputated), a hard-drinking father, and four siblings. The Langsley's could never make ends meet and had to move in with Bessie's sister and brother-in-law, devout Pentecostals with a strict spartan lifestyle: no music, no television, no booze (theoretically), and lots of talk about God.

    Ricky was an odd friendless child who admits that he started molesting younger kids when he was nine-years-old. Ricky claims that he always knew something was wrong with him, and - as a young adult - tried to get help on several occasions, to no avail. Unable to control his compulsions, Ricky even attempted suicide. Finally, at the age of 26, the misfit became a murderer.

    The summary above is the 'nutshell' version. In the book, Marzano-Lesnevich provides (what feels like) a week by week account of Ricky's life, with admittedly fictionalized components, including: descriptions of what people were wearing; what they were doing; what they might be thinking; what they were looking at; conversations they had; what they were drinking; whether sweat was rolling down their faces; and so on. The author also includes a detailed description of young Jeremy's murder, the extensive search for the missing boy, the police finding his body, and - finally - Ricky's arrest and trials.

    Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich's personal story is interwoven with Ricky's tale. The author talks about growing up in New Jersey with two lawyer parents and two siblings - one a twin brother. The family was upwardly mobile, had a nice home, and went on yearly vacations to Nantucket or more exotic destinations. Young Alexandria's parents had an active social life and - when they went out - would ask the children's maternal grandparents to watch the kids. And that's when grandpa would molest Alexandria or her sister Nicola.

    Grandpa would take out his false teeth, make a scary face, and tell Alexandria he was a witch who would 'get her' if she told on him - which terrified the child into silence. Even so - when Alexandria was about 8-years-old - her parents found out about the abuse when Nicola talked about 'sitting on Grandpa's lap.'

    The parents learned the truth, BUT NOTHING HAPPENED. The heads of the family didn't call the police, didn't confront the predator, and didn't discuss the situation with the children. Instead, Alexandria's folks pretended nothing had happened. The grandparents still visited frequently, though grandpa was never again left alone with the children.

    The molestation - and subsequent silence - scarred Marzano-Lesnevich for life and had a devastating effect on her relationship with her entire family - especially her parents and grandparents. When Marzano-Lesnevich got older, the memories of abuse also made it difficult for her to sustain romantic relationships or to be intimate with her partners.

    Again this is the 'nutshell version.' In the book the author describes her childhood, and much of her young adulthood, in great detail, including the emotional (and physical) damage she suffered - and still endures. It's clear (to me) that Marzano-Lesnevich's mother and father mishandled the situation and compounded the damage caused by the sexual abuse. It's hard to fathom exactly what her parents were thinking, but this kind of 'secret keeping' is probably common within families. After all, to reveal the truth would destroy the grandparents lives. What would your parents have done in this situation? What would you do? (This would make a great topic for book club discussions.)

    "The Fact of a Body" has garnered many stellar reviews and has been heralded as the 'must read' of the summer. That said, I'm not as big a fan as many other people.

    First, I didn't see a real connection between Ricky's story and Marzano-Lesnevich's story. It's true that Ricky abused children and Alexandria was molested, but the situations aren't analogous.....and the author's attempt to segue between the separate crimes doesn't work (for me). It feels like two separate books have been stuck together, somewhat like an old Reader's Digest anthology. Moreover, the fictionalized details of the narratives - especially Ricky's - seem to serve little purpose, and detract from their versimilitude.

    That said, I admire Marzano-Lesnevich's extensive research into Ricky's life and crimes. The author spent years preparing to write this book: she read thousands of pages of documents; listened to numerous taped recordings; interviewed people who knew Ricky; traveled to the killer's homes, jobs, and haunts; and even visited the convict in prison.

    My final thoughts: the book tells two compelling true crime stories and I'd recommend it to readers who enjoy that genre.

    You can follow my reviews at

  • Brina

    Fact of the Body: A Murder and a Memoir is one of the books chosen for the nonfiction book club on goodreads this summer. I enjoy reading mysteries, true crime, and memoirs so I found the concept of this book to be intriguing. In a book that is a mixture of true narrative and personal recollections, Fact of the Body is an intricate web of emotions that come to a nexus when investigating a horrible crime from multiple angles.

    Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich had overcome long odds and made it into Ha

    Fact of the Body: A Murder and a Memoir is one of the books chosen for the nonfiction book club on goodreads this summer. I enjoy reading mysteries, true crime, and memoirs so I found the concept of this book to be intriguing. In a book that is a mixture of true narrative and personal recollections, Fact of the Body is an intricate web of emotions that come to a nexus when investigating a horrible crime from multiple angles.

    Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich had overcome long odds and made it into Harvard law school. After her first year there, she gained an internship at the law offices of Stafford Clive near Lake Charles, Louisiana. The office was the lead defense counsel of convicted pedophile Ricky Langley who had gained a second trial ten years after his first had landed him on death row. Accused of killing and molesting a six year old, Langley's counsel fought to keep him from the death penalty, either with a conviction of life in prison or by reasons of insanity. Marzano-Lesnevich had chosen to enter the law not just because both of her parents were lawyers, but because she was morally opposed to the death penalty; until she became exposed to the Langley case and churned up ghastly images from her childhood.

    As a surviving twin in a set of triplets, Marzano-Lesnevich barely made it out of infancy. Then the unthinkable happened-- her grandfather molested both her and her two younger sisters. While the images aren't gruesome they are tough to get through, especially for a parent of girls. Scarred emotionally and physically for life, she could never forget the baggage from her past, while her parents and sisters chose to cover up what had happened and move on. It is not my place to question the parenting skills here, but Marzano-Lesnevich's family appears dysfunctional at best, and she became a loner, and later in life could relate to a convicted pedophile like Ricky Langley.

    Langley himself was the product of a fractured family, his parents and surviving siblings overcoming a horrendous car crash which killed two siblings and left his mother severely disabled. Yet they survived as best as they could, living with family in Iowa, Louisiana. Ricky was a miracle baby but was either abused or ignored as a child. One could almost feel sorry for him that is until he admired to molesting children simply for enjoyment from the time he was nine years old. That Marzano-Lesnevich could relate to him on any level was tough to swallow, and the sections about Langley and the crimes he committed were both repetitive and heinous. As a result, I read fast not because I was excited to find out whodunit but because by the two-thirds point I was ready for some of these gruesome memories to be over.

    Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich has created a multi-layered, complicated premise for a book combining memoir and fact. Weaving two different instances of child molestation with entirely different outcomes, she attempts for the reader to sympathize with both the offender and the victim. While this might have worked for me when she described her own story, I had little sympathy for Ricky Langley, as tough as his childhood might have been. Fact of the Body might be ushering in a new eclectic genre of book but the fusing of stories here did not work for me, especially with the sometimes gruesome images. I imagine that if this was not a group read I would not have read it. A compelling story nonetheless, I rate Fact of the Body 3.5 stars.

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