You know how you start a book--a memoir, a mystery, a true crime story, and you plunge into reading the uncomfortable or grizzly details, knowing that the writer is going to bring you back to a safe and known place, with the mystery solved, and a just punishment meted out? This is not that kind of a book. It's another, better kind of a book.
Alex Marzano-Lesnevich* begins The Fact of a Body writing about the murder of a young boy by a pedophile. A student at Harvard Law, they are asked to help with research on a convicted murderer, who has already been sentenced, and after a period of years, has won a second trial. They wend their way through years of files that record the man's childhood, the investigation of the murder, and the countless number of people who studied him. They interview many who were his jurors, his psychiatrists, his lawyers, and his jailers. As they collect information, they begin to look into their own family's complex life, its secrets and its sadnesses. Thus, in seeking to understand the murderer Ricky Langley, they find a way to begin the healing of their own trauma.
Their path is complicated, and while reliving their past hurts, they arrive at a place in which their past, though still painful to relive, allows them a way to move on, with their whole self, including their past.
Alex writes the two stories carefully and thoughtfully. I have never read a book like it. It is intricate and revelatory, even hopeful. I'm grateful for Marzano-Lesnevich's skill, their brilliance, and their persistence. It will help others who have experienced trauma.
I will always remember this line from the book:
"The past is in my body."
Marzano-Lesnevich is a participant at this year's Festival. Please attend their program to learn more about this haunting -- and important -- work of literature. It speaks for millions.
*Alex’s preferred pronouns are they/them/theirs