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A haunting blend of memoir and true crime, THE FACT OF A BODY is an intellectual and emotional thriller about the stories we make of the past. It begins with a murder. In 1992, a convicted pedophile named Ricky Langley strangled six-year-old Jeremy Guillory in the rural southwestern Louisiana town of Iowa. When the boy’s body was discovered three days later, Langley confessed immediately, and was swiftly sentenced to death.
The story might have ended there. But eleven years after the murder, as a young Harvard Law student, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich went to Louisiana to fight the death penalty. The daughter of two lawyers, she was passionately opposed to it, and eager to start the work she thought would define the rest of her life. She chose a law firm to work for—the firm, it turned out, that represented Ricky Langley, who was now facing retrials and a life sentence. She watched his confession tape, and something unexpected happened: despite what she believed, despite what she wanted to work for, she suddenly wanted Ricky to die.
What determines who we are—our ideals, or the hold the past has over us? Years after first watching the confession tape, Marzano-Lesnevich set out to re-investigate the murder. She thought she’d solve the mystery of her reaction. But instead, she uncovered more mysteries—about the past, the people who’d lived it, about Langley, and about her own family.
An IN COLD BLOOD for the memoir age, as addictive as Serial and the Making of a Murderer but told with the intimacy of memoir, THE FACT OF A BODY will make you feel, make you think, and keep you up at night, turning its pages.
• Why do you think Alexandria chose to include her own life with Ricky Langley’s, and Ricky’s along with her own, rather than writing a more straightforward memoir or a journalistic examination of Ricky’s life and crimes? Do you think this structure worked, or would you have preferred a simpler structure?
• The Fact of a Body uses time in an unusual way. The book begins with Ricky Langley murdering Jeremy Guillory. But then, in Part Two, it goes back in time to before Ricky’s birth and tells of his childhood and young adulthood, until reaching the murder again and continuing on to the court cases. How did that structure impact your experience of reading the book? Did your feelings about the murder change at all the second time through?
• Growing up, Alexandria and her sisters are abused by their grandfather—yet in the book, Alexandria chooses not to reveal the abuse for the first few chapters, focusing on other aspects of the family’s life. Why do you think she chose to delay this information?
• Iowa, Louisiana, is described as a place people try, and fail, to leave the past behind. In what other ways do people in the book struggle to leave the past behind? Does anyone succeed? What does success look like?
• Do you think pedophilia is a mental disorder? What should be done with people like Ricky Langley? What about people like Alexandria’s grandfather?
• Both Ricky Langley and Alexandria’s grandfather were pedophiles, yet their crimes were treated very differently. What do you think contributed to this difference?
• What is the role of silence in the events that happen in The Fact of a Body? In Ricky Langley’s life? In Alexandria’s life? In what way is the book a response to silence?
• What’s different about the way Alexandria approached discovering Ricky Langley’s story, versus the way his story was told in courts of law? Did that difference impact the way you felt about him or his crimes?
• Alexandria writes that forgiveness isn’t the right word to describe how she relates to the memory of her grandparents. Yet she also tells her grandparents she loves them. Lorilei Guillory says she doesn’t forgive Ricky Langley, but that she doesn’t want him to die. What does forgiveness mean to you?
• A lot in The Fact of a Body remains unknown—even unknowable. What does the book suggest about how we live with what cannot be resolved? Have you found that to be true in your own life?
• Alexandria writes that what you think about Ricky Langley may have more to do with who you are than with what he did. What does this mean? In what ways is it illustrated in the book? Do you think it’s true?