An accomplished literary debut weaves memoir and true-crime investigation.Essayist and lawyer Marzano-Lesnevich (Writing/Harvard Kennedy School of Government) fashions an absorbing narrative about secrets, pain, revenge, and, ultimately, the slippery notion of truth. In 2003, working as a summer intern at a Louisiana law firm that defends clients sentenced to death, the author discovered the case of a child's murder by a confessed pedophile. Passionately opposed to capital punishment, she realized that she wanted this client to die. That response—unsettling and unexpected—incited an interest in the case that became nothing less than an obsession. For 10 years, she read 30,000 pages of documents, including court transcripts, newspaper coverage, and a play based on interviews with the victim's mother; watched the killer's taped confessions from three trials; and traveled multiple times to Louisiana. That fixation inflames another investigation, as well, into her own troubling past. "I am pulled to this story by absences," she writes. "Strange blacknesses, strange forgettings, that overtake me at times. They reveal what is still unresolved inside me." With care and pacing that is sometimes too deliberate, the author reveals the blacknesses in her own family: her father, a successful lawyer, succumbed to rage and depressions; her mother, also a lawyer, was stubbornly silent about her past; the author learns that she was not a twin but really a triplet, with a sister who died within months, never mentioned by the family; and, most horrifically, her grandfather sexually abused her and her younger sister for years. When Marzano-Lesnevich finally revealed the abuse to her parents, they buried it, refusing to acknowledge her pain even when she became severely depressed and anorexic. Her family members, she realizes now, were "prisoners" of their own triumphant narrative: children of immigrants, they were living the American dream, "determinedly fine." The author admits that she has "layered my imagination" onto her sources to make her characters vivid, inevitably raising questions about the line between nonfiction and fiction and about how such embellishment can manipulate the reader's perceptions and sympathies. A powerful evocation of the raw pain of emotional scars.
Audible's Best of the Year 2017
Bustle's Best True Crime Books of 2017
LitHub's Best Crime Books of 2017
BookRiot's Best Books of 2017
New England Book Award 2017 Finalist
Entertainment Weekly "Must" List and Best Books of the Year So Far
Real Simple's Best New Books
Guardian Best Book of the Year
Lambda Literary Award Finalist
“A memoir/true-crime hybrid that stands up to the best of either genre, and will linger in your mind long after the last page.”
“Marzano-Lesnevich, in her performance of hybridity “A Murder and a Memoir” is only doing what the best memoirists do: creating a book of fact and body,and speaking, in all their discord, as mother, father, and child.”
LA Review of Books
“This is a nonfiction book you could give up novels for… Intertwines a riveting true crime story with a brave memoir, reminding us that facing the truth is our only option.”
“Utterly remarkable. It isn’t just that the writing can be beautiful… it isn’t just her coruscating honesty, it is that she understands how very partial the stories we tell ourselves are: the story of themselves that parents choose to tell their children as much as the stories that defence and prosecuting counsels create about events and people. Stories, she sees, are both essential and treacherous... Heroically accomplished.”
The Times of London
“There are echoes of In Cold Blood in this haunting story…A gothic mixture of memoir and true crime, The Fact of a Body is full of secrets that don’t want to stay buried, that are forced to the surface despite all attempts to keep them submerged… Bold, disquieting… True crime that feels true.”
The Sunday Times of London
“Dream-stippled prose, at once sharp with beauty and lush with horror.”
The Boston Globe
“The superb writing and story-telling keep luring you back. Marzano-Lesnevich writes with a beautifully deft one-two-three punch of grace, power and raw emotion.”
The Buffalo News
"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 New York Times bestselling Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere
“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.”
"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 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 Argonauts
"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.”
"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
“The writing is superb and gripping…a moving must-have.”
Library Journal, starred review
“Surprising, suspenseful, and moving…A book that defies both its genres, turning into something wholly different and memorable.”
Booklist, starred review
“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.”
“THE FACT OF A BODY is excellent. So gripping and fascinating.”
Sophie Hannah, New York Times bestselling author of The Monogram Murders
“Suspenseful and spellbinding.”
Audible Best Books of the Year (So Far)