We true crime fans are witnessing a huge upswing in the popularity of our favorite genre right now. For some, that means indulging in gruesome details of murder and mayhem (e.g. The Last Podcast on the Left). For others, that means examining the darkest elements of humanity in order to ensure the safety of each other (My Favorite Murder podcast fans, a community of “murderinos” who “stay sexy, and don’t get murdered”). For others, that means taking a critical look at our law enforcement and justice system (Sword and Scale podcast).
In Fact of a Body, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich turns that critical eye to the systems we trust for protection, from the legal system to the family system, and how those systems fail. The law keeps the public safe. Everyone knows this. This centuries-old body of logic and reason only works because of our trust in it. But “trust” is a belief. It is deeply tied to our mental state. We have many emotions tied to the concepts of “justice.” “Guilt” is a legal determination, but it is also a feeling. “Doubt” is a feeling that is encouraged in jurors. “Proof” is fact, but it is also a “burden.” The law can be defined as an attempt to draw borders around emotional outcomes to emotion-driven actions.
Marzano-Lesnevich is staunchly anti-death penalty. Haunted from birth by the shadow of death in her family, she believes that no one should have the right to decide to end the life of another. But when, as a legal intern, she views a videotaped confession of convicted child murderer Ricky Langley, she is overwhelmed with the desire to see Langley die. What follows is Ricky’s horrendous crime filtered through the lens of Marzano-Lesnevich’s own childhood family secrets. She discovers that she is not the only person who examines Ricky’s story through the lens of her past: the judge, the jurors, and counsel on both sides also tie Ricky’s story to their own experiences.
A crime is an incident; an investigation is an explanation. Reporting with the compassion of the novelist and weaving sentences with the proficiency of a poet, Marzano-Lesnevich’s prose dissolves genre. Her mission to deconstruct the boundaries around “story” is reflected in every phrase. The Fact of a Body is an emotional investigation, not only into how we construct stories to discover the “truth, but also how multiple–possibly conflicting–“truths” may exist depending on how a story is written. Ultimately, we are forced to confront that reason and logic, our tools of law, are insufficient tools for measuring the depths of emotion involved in unspeakable crimes and the astounding capacity for forgiveness.
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich will be at BookPeople next Friday, May 26, at 7pm to speak and sign copies of the book. .