Book Club Prep: The Fact of a Body by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich

Our next book club book will be The Fact of a Body by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich! This award-winning memoir and true crime combination is, at times, tough reading, but well-worth sticking through.

Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins an internship 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.

Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’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.

[Note: Although Marzano-Lesnevich now identifies as non-binary, I am using the official synopsis of the book as written on their website.]

Highlight white text for content warnings: sexual assault, child abuse, murder, death and dying, sexual content, pregnancy and childbirth, mental illness, gaslighting

For those of you looking for hosting ideas, here are some easy snacks and beverages you and your book club compatriots can enjoy while discussing The Fact of a Body. And for those of you who are looking for something more beyond the book itself, here are some articles and books which either tie into Marzano-Lesnevich’s memoir or expand upon its themes and content.

Snacks & Drinks:

Guess what! This is another “alcohol, and lots of it” book. Two in a row!!! We promise our next book won’t be quite so depressing. In the meantime, here are at least a couple ideas to help out with your hosting.

Red Beans & Rice

A cheap and easy staple of Louisiana cuisine. Unknown whether this dish is also popular in the town of Iowa, Louisiana, but to be honest, I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel on this one. (And if you’ve read the book already, can you blame me?) Google has plenty of recipes of Louisiana origin on offer – just don’t forget the hot sauce.

Alcohol

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.

Further Context:

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

True crime writing legend Ann Rule’s first published novel, The Stranger Beside Me is unique in that Ann Rule was already, unknowingly, acquainted with the serial killer about whom she had agreed to write, prior to his capture. Rule’s writing is always well-considered and carefully factual, and a master class in how to write true crime without resorting to dramatics and emotionally charged assumptions. In addition, however, this particular novel explores in detail how easily we can be deceived by those whom we trust, largely as the result of Rule’s incidental friendship with a warm and kind-hearted man who, it turns out, she didn’t actually know at all.

Dark Chapter by Winnie M. Li

Having accidentally attended this book’s launch party at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, I can attest that Winnie M. Li’s relationship to the contents of her fictional novel is intimate and eloquently described in her own words through her public speaking events and her many articles such as this one regarding the 10th anniversary of her rape which occurred in Belfast in 2008. While this novel is a fictionalized account of Li’s rape and its aftermath, unlike Marzano-Lesnevich’s memoir/true crime combination, both books are highly personal to their authors and speak to their own experiences as both victims and survivors.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice & Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Although I have not personally read this book, my mother strongly recommends it after reading it for her local book club meeting. The memoir examines the many ways in which our United States justice system continues to fail those who are the most marginalized and voiceless, including cases which involve the death penalty. To quote the official synopsis: Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green

This graphic novel is a challenging memoir of the author’s struggle with eating disorders from a young age, as well as her later experience as a sexual assault survivor. This book made it into my spree of graphic novel reading last summer by pure chance, but has stuck with me so thoroughly that I still think of it at least once every couple of weeks. I highly recommend it.

The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson

Although I have not yet had time to read this book, its contents are both memoir and true crime narrative, much like The Fact of a Body. The murder victim in this case, however, is the author’s aunt. To quote the official synopsis: The Red Parts chronicles the uncanny series of events that led to Nelson’s interest in her aunt’s death, the reopening of the case, the bizarre and brutal trial that ensued, and the effects these events had on the disparate group of people they brought together. But The Red Parts is much more than a “true crime” record of a murder, investigation, and trial. For into this story Nelson has woven an account of a girlhood and early adulthood haunted by loss, mortality, mystery, and betrayal, as well as a look at the personal and political consequences of our cultural fixation on dead (white) women.

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