Winner of the Lambda Literary Award
Winner of the Chautauqua Prize
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—she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.
As Marzano-Lesnevich pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Langley’s childhood. And by examining the details of Langley’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors her view of Ricky's crime.
But another surprise awaits: She wasn’t the only one who saw her life in Langley’s.
An intellectual and emotional thriller that is also a different kind of murder mystery, The Fact of a Body is a book not only about how the story of one crime was constructed—but about how we grapple with our own personal histories. Along the way it tackles questions about the nature of forgiveness, and if a single narrative can ever really contain something as definitive as the truth. This groundbreaking, heart-stopping work, ten years in the making, shows how the law is more personal than we would like to believe—and the truth more complicated, and powerful, than we could ever imagine.
“Haunting . . . Marzano-Lesnevich digs into one case that begins to feel oddly familiar, and eventually is forced to confront her understanding of justice, forgiveness, and truth.”—BuzzFeed
"This book is a marvel. With unflinching precision and immense compassion, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich peels apart both a murder case and her own experience to reveal how we try to make sense of the past. The Fact of a Body is equal parts gripping and haunting and will leave you questioning whether any one story can hold the full truth."—Celeste Ng, author of the The New York Times bestselling Everything I Never Told You
“A fascinating hybrid of true crime and memoir, The Fact of a Body is intricately constructed, emotionally raw, and unflinching. Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich has written a gripping meditation on memory, justice, and the limits of empathy.”—Tom Perrotta
"The Fact of a Body is unlike any murder story I've ever read, a masterpiece of both reportage and memoir, a book that could only be written by an author with Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich's staggering gifts: a relentless reporter with a law degree from Harvard, a poet's understanding of the cadence of a line, and a novelist's gift for empathy. Walter Benjamin famously said that all great works of art either dissolve a genre or invent one. This book does both, and its greatness is undeniable."—Justin St. Germain, author of Son of a Gun
"The Fact of a Body is a remarkable act of witness, an anatomy of silence and the violence it abets, a book of both public and private accountings. Rejecting the false comfort of certainty, it confronts the inadequacy of all our tools for fathoming not just unforgivable crimes, but the baffling, human grace that can forgive them. This is a profound and riveting book."—Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
"The balancing act here performed between autobiography and journalism, documentary and imagination, witnessing and reckoning, the tender and the terrible, is shrewd and graceful. In the hands of a lesser human or writer, it could have all fallen apart; instead, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich has given us an exquisite and exquisitely difficult work of art that makes a fierce claim on our attention, conscience, and heart."—Maggie Nelson, author of the NBCC award-winning The Argonauts
"Compulsive, eloquent and profoundly troubling. One of those rare books which embrace the genuine complexity of life."—Mark Haddon, bestselling author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
"Haunting . . . impeccably researched . . . Her writing is remarkably evocative and taut with suspense, with a level of nuance that sets this effort apart from other true crime accounts."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An accomplished literary debut . . . an absorbing narrative about secrets, pain, revenge, and, ultimately, the slippery notion of truth . . . A powerful evocation of the raw pain of emotional scars.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Surprising, suspenseful, and moving . . . A book that defies both itsgenres, turning into something wholly different and memorable.”—Booklist (starred review)
Reviews from Goodreads
The boy wears sweatpants the color of a Louisiana lake. Later, the police report will note them as blue, though in every description his mother gives thereafter she will always insist on calling them...