Published by Atria Books
Publication date: April 11th 2017
The Bernie Madoff story is so perfectly set up that there is little point in messing around with its formula, even for fiction. Thankfully, Randy Sue Meyers doesn’t change much of the story in her new novel The Widow of Wall Street. Jake is a trader who starts his own company with a straightforward brokerage side and the more mysterious Club, where he picks stocks for a select group of wealthy clients, always earning above average returns. Phoebe is his doting wife, they’re high school sweethearts with two perfect children, both of whom go into the family business at the brokerage. From the outside the gloss on this family is blinding in its sheen. Right up until Jake’s Ponzi scam is revealed and what was gold is now revealed to be nothing more than scrap metal. Jake confesses and heads off to a minimum security prison while Phoebe is left on the outside to salvage a life for herself.
The allure of novels based on real life crime is the opportunity to a writer’s take on what really can’t ever be known—the inside the criminal’s mind. Whether it’s accurate or not is beside the point: It’s the story that counts. In the case of Phoebe and Jake we learn very early on that Phoebe has a secret
After all the awful things she’d done, Jake would save her. Phoebe swore to God she’d never hurt him again for as long as she lived.
Of course, this promise is key because when he shatters their life what will Phoebe do? Meyers pushes the boundaries of spousal allegiance in The Widow of Wall Street far beyond anything I’d honor. Yes, Phoebe feels beholden to Jake, but even after he ropes her into talking up his Club to their wealthy friends despite her having no understanding of what it is? Or when he ‘invests’ the hard-earned funds of her non-profit so they can earn enough money to branch out? Even after her children tell her it’s Jake or them? Yes to all of these.
The Widow of Wall Street is reminiscent of Elin Hilderbrand’s Silver Girl and it left me with the same feeling…or lack of. In both it is the wife who bears the brunt of the husband’s massive fraud. And in both cases, neither husband seems to feel all that bad about what they’ve done. Or he does, but not enough that he can’t deflect, dissemble and obfuscate, all while knowing full well that if he could have continued uncaught he would have. Maybe it’s just that men who are morally bankrupt even as they drown in the trappings of wealth and success are not so interesting to me these days. But, the collateral damage they accrue is. Meyers uses why Phoebe sticks with Jake for as long as she does and what it finally takes for her to change as a talking point in the novel. In doing so she makes The Widow of Wall Street a readers’ choice novel—either you’ll buy into Phoebe and her motivations or you won’t.