So I’m starting to get into some books that I’d picked as potentially good summer reads (although I still haven’t decided what to take on vacation…) — The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich and Sociable by Rebecca Harrington.  I got Sociable because it seemed like a Bridget Jones style fun summer read that might not be completely idiotic. The Fact of a Body falls on the other side of summer reading – true crime.

 

I’m just going to tell you, I don’t think Sociable is worth your time. I wouldn’t have finished it if it were any longer than 236 pages. This is a novel about a young woman who moves to NY to work in journalism but ends up at sort of a BuzzFeed type organization writing “Top 15 Things Only Coffee Lovers Will Understand.” Honestly, the premise of this book was fine, some of the threads were interesting, but nothing was really developed and pretty much all the characters are insufferable. I’m thinking that was the author’s intent, and really, I guess many 24 year olds are insufferable. But man, I did not want to read any more about their terrible inability to understand or connect with other humans. Even beyond that, these characters were just stupid. The women’s dialogue is full of verbal filler (like, oh my God) and uptalk, which just gets annoying to read. And their conversation about feminism made me want to kill myself — two women talking about their terrible relationships with men (pretty much the only thing the two EVER discuss) debating which one of them is behaving in a feminist manner??! Ug.  This book may fail the Bechtel test. Maybe that was the point, but, I don’t blame you for leaving this one on the shelf.

The Fact of a Body is VERY different. It’s a pretty dark book, as much true crime is — the crime here is a murder and possible child molestation (it’s clear the perpetrator is a pedophile, less clear exactly how that fits into this crime). And, the memoir aspect is ALSO about child molestation! Marzano-Lesnevich is the child of two lawyers who went to law school because of her deep revulsion for the death penalty and her desire to help defendants in death penalty cases. In her first job, she immediately runs into the man who is guilty (tried three times and found guilty each time) of the murder  at the heart of the book. His story challenges her feelings on the death penalty and brings to the surface her unresolved issues with herself being molested as a child by a family member. The book tells the story of the crime, of the man’s life up until the crime, of the mother of the murdered child, of the many trials, and also the story of Marzano-Lesnevich’s life and how she begins to deal with her abuse differently.

One of the main threads of the book is how people, perhaps particularly lawyers, are storytellers:

My father is a storyteller. He tells stories to juries for a living, and he tells them to us around a thick white Formica table…

Marzano-Lesnevich at first loves this about lawyers:

Standing in front of an enormous three-part blackboard, [the law professor] raps the board with the chalk and begins. “Imagine . . .” she instructs the students, and begins to describe a set of circumstances. I don’t know yet to call what comes out of her mouth a hypothetical, the quick situations sketched by law professors to teach students to analyze how a principle applies to different circumstances. I recognize it for what it is: a story.

But ultimately, although Marzano-Lesnevich tells a very compelling narrative story about what has happened in her life and in this crime, she rebels against that:

What I fell in love with about the law so many years ago was the way that in making a story, in making a neat narrative of events, it finds a beginning, and therefore cause. But I didn’t understand then that the law doesn’t find the beginning any more than it finds the truth. It creates a story. That story has a beginning. That story simplifies and we call it truth.

In the end, she writes that one person — even a convicted murderer — can never be all one thing or another, “Only a story can be that. Never a person.” And I whole-heartedly agree — this is a compelling story that she’s telling, but of course, she has her own view of the situation, the frame that she imposes on these stories. We humans are storytellers, we fit things into narratives. But ultimately, people are more complicated than the stories they tell or the stories told about them.

If you’re able to deal with the subject matter of this book (pedophilia, murder of a child), I actually recommend it as an interesting and captivating summer read. I read this very quickly once I started (in about 2 days??) and it was a bit more academic and thought provoking than perhaps the standard true crime.

Currently reading: Still working on Tiny Beautiful Things and about to start Happiness.