Mes­meris­ing multi-genre work

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - Re­view by SHARIL DEWA star2@thes­tar.com.my

“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.

Photo: NINA SUBIN/alexan­dria­marzano-les­nevich.com

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