Monday, July 17, 2017

The Widow of Wall Street by Randy Susan Meyer

The Widow of Wall Street by Randy Susan Meyers
Published April 2017 by Atria Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Phoebe recognizes fire in Jake Pierce’s belly from the moment they meet as teenagers. As he creates a financial dynasty, she trusts him without hesitation—unaware his hunger for success hides a dark talent for deception.

When Phoebe learns her husband’s triumph and vast reach rests on an elaborate Ponzi scheme her world unravels. As Jake’s crime is uncovered, the world obsesses about Phoebe. Did she know her life was fabricated by fraud? Was she his accomplice?

While Jake is trapped in the web of his deceit, Phoebe is caught in an unbearable choice. Her children refuse to see her if she remains at their father’s side, but abandoning him feels cruel and impossible.

My Thoughts:
The summary above gives away nothing - Meyers opens the book with Phoebe visiting Jake in prison. The question then is not what will happen but how have these two people come to this point in their lives.

Meyers has clearly built her novel around the story of Bernie Madoff, the man convicted of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. Like Madoff, Jake builds up his own company from nothing, seemingly better at working the stock market better than anyone else. But Jake's secret lies in the private piece of his company that pulls in the big money. Money that is essential to keep everything afloat because, as it turns out, Jake is spending that money instead of investing it for his clients. To keep the money coming in, Jake uses Phoebe to help win over new people. One can't help but wonder if Madoff did the same thing with his wife, Ruth.

When Madoff's scheme came to light, it was not clear exactly how much Ruth knew about what was really going on. It seemed impossible to me at the time that she could have been clueless. But the older I get, the more I believe that, in a marriage, spouses tend to turn over certain aspects of their lives to the spouse who is best suited to that piece. In The Widow of Wall Street, Meyer wants readers to believe that Phoebe was clueless about how the financial markets work (and, let's be honest, most of us really don't understand them) and that she believed that their rich lifestyle was the just reward of Jake's success.

The question is, how could a woman as smart as Phoebe, stay with a man like Jake, whose behavior becomes increasingly erratic as the stakes increase? How could she stand by him when it all comes crashing down. Meyers has that covered in a way that is very believable, from the initial reason they come together and the reasons she stays with him.

So of the writing seemed a little stilted to me. But there were also passages that really spoke to me, including this one that reminded me of going through my mother-in-law's things when she passed.
"Death taught you that souls lived in the ephemera once surrounding the ones you loved. Families fighting over ancient decks of cards and leaking teapots struggled to be keepers of the past. Now she understood. Possessions mattered because they held your history."
This book works for me in no small part because it explores, in a fictional way, the Madoff story. Meyers gives readers a look into what life might have been like for Madoff, his wife and their families and friends after it all came crashing down. What was life like when everything you own is suddenly under government control, including the things your mother handed down to you? What's it like for the children of a man that did these terrible things who also have to live with people wondering how much they knew? What's it like to have to face family who've been hurt by your husband? What's it like to be under siege by the media, to be considered a pariah wherever you go, to be torn by your loyalties? And what's it like to go from having the best of everything to having almost nothing? It's in the aftermath of Jake's downfall that this book really shone for me.

As with all of Meyer's books, this one would make a good book club selection with themes of loyalty, marriage, family ties, parental relationships, grief, corruption, ethics, fidelity, and multiculturalism.

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