I don’t normally review books. I will likely catch some flack for liking this one. One of my friends likes to jokingly call me “Champion of the Rich” & although I might not go that far, I certainly do not understand the tendency in our society to dislike or even hate someone because they have been successful or born to a life of privilege & have access to more luxuries and resources than we do. There is no doubt that the infamous Bernie Madoff, former Chairman of NASDAQ, who defrauded many, many people of billions of dollars in his infamous Ponzi scheme, is the epitome of heartless. You will likely think that even more after reading this book. Throughout this book & since I finished it last night in a puddle of tears, I am fascinated by the psychology of such a person. I cannot reconcile the two personas that the author, Bernie’s former daughter-in-law, Stephanie Madoff Mack reveals: Bernie, the financier who took people’s money, security, college funds, retirement savings, etc. with seemingly no conscience whatsoever & Bernie, the grandfather who came by in the middle of the workday just so he could feed his newborn granddaughter a bottle. But this book is not about him. This book is about his son Mark, who took his own life on the 2nd anniversary of his father’s arrest and the life he shared with his wife, the author, Stephanie Madoff Mack.
I’m not a lover of the media & have long been of the opinion that half of the things that are reported are not only grossly inaccurate but are stories I don’t even need to know. I will confess that when the Madoff scandal broke in 2008, I made the erroneous assumption that his entire family had to be aware of what was going on. I had no idea that his sons actually turned him in to the authorities immediately after he confessed to them & that, although it was in the same building where their father’s investment company was based, they worked in another business that they grew to be successful on their own merit, not Bernie Madoff’s. They were, however, unfortunate enough to have their father’s last name. And it would haunt Mark for what ended up being his short life. The relentless pursuit of Madoff’s sons and grandchildren is a disgrace & Stephanie has been brave enough to expose that injustice. Heartbreaking, really. The final straw that drove her husband to hang himself from the beam in their NYC loft was that victims, led by a team of lawyers, filed suit against his four year-old daughter. I cannot begin to imagine the inner emotional turmoil that this man, who immediately severed relations with his father after his father confessed his crime, must have endured every day he lived.
I read some reviews of this book on Goodreads AFTER I had finished the book & people continue to be impossibly unfeeling and callous — downright cruel. Stephanie is called whiny, bitchy, “born with a silver spoon”, etc. The bottom line is, she WAS from a wealthy family and she then married into a wealthier family & the controversial “stolen” wealth of her father-in-law would destroy the marriage and family that she and Mark had worked so hard to build. Should she be given less sympathy because she has more financial resources at her disposal and multiple residences, purchased with her wealth, not her father-in-law’s? I think not. When she wakes up every day, she is still faced with two children whose father took his own life & the loss of the man that she considered her soulmate. This book was, for me, a fascinating study of relationships and human nature. It explores the complicated inner workings of families. It explores the odd reasoning that some victims go through in an effort to seek compensation and damages so that they feel justice has been served. It disturbs me that in our society, people seem to feel that if they cannot get blood from the turnip that wronged them, they are entitled to the blood of people connected to the turnip, who bear no responsibility for the “wrong” in the first place. The investors who pursued Mark and Stephanie’s wealth as compensation for what Mark’s dad did are no better than a victim who sues an uninsured, drunk driver to no avail and then decides to go after the family of the drunk.
Several reviewers on Goodreads felt the need to criticize Stephanie’s writing style, her grammar, & her use of the Madoff name. I don’t think she set out to write a literary classic. I think it was pretty necessary to include the Madoff name, considering that that is what the book is about. I read it in less than 2 days and couldn’t put it down. I think she wrote a beautiful memoir and tribute to her husband. I think she wanted to vindicate Mark because he had been tried in the court of public opinion and sentenced himself to death. The book changed my life for the better. I want to wake up every day and thank God that I have my husband here to father my children. I want to understand and dear Lord, I want the public to understand that having wealth does not make someone greedy, selfish & unworthy of our love & respect. Are there evil, greedy rich folks? Yes. There are evil, greedy middle class folks too. Is it ok to be privileged & enjoy that blessing? It certainly is. Pray for these people if you like but in most cases you have no reason to belittle or persecute them. I encourage you to read “The End of Normal” without passing judgment on this beautiful, brave woman. Please read it and take something away from it that makes you a better person.
And if you’d like to follow up on Stephanie Madoff Mack, you can read more here & here. I think she is a beautiful person, inside & out. Thank God she is there for her children.