“The Widow of Wall Street” is the latest novel from author Randy Susan Meyers, a Jamaica Plain resident. The Gazette conducted a question-and-answer session through email with Meyers about her new novel. (The session has been edited.) For more information about the book or Meyers, visit randysusanmeyers.com.
Q: Where did the inspiration for the novel come from?
A: Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme inspired my novel. When his crimes headlined, I flashed to his wife, Ruth. I imagined learning in a one moment that your entire life was built on air.
Every crime has multiple victims—and those victims include the family of the perpetrator. I worked with criminals for over ten years. Even those engaging in the most heinous behavior, manage to explain away their exploits to themselves. Everyone is the star of their own show.
Writing this novel allowed me to explore my fascination with how crimes affect those closest to the perpetrator.
Q: How would you describe the novel to a potential reader?
A: “The Widow of Wall Street” explores a family where the patriarch spends decades carrying out a Ponzi scheme under the guise of a wealth management fund, while also running a respected and legitimate stock brokerage, keeping his family in the dark while he builds a sham family dynasty, until the truth explodes. His wife must learn to survive in the debris and come to grips with the realization that her marriage and family were built on air.
The novel is told from the point of view of, husband, Jake Pierce, and wife, Phoebe Pierce—caught in the before and after of a crime—one knowingly, one blind.
Q: What’s your view of Wall Street?
A: This is only my view and my opinion: Be alert; be careful. If it sounds too good to be true, it most certainly is.
White-collar criminals on Wall Street, accustomed to entitlement, commit the most outrageous schemes and crimes, believing they can and will find a way out. They often use their ill-gotten gains as leverage in marital power struggles. Many folks, conditioned to take second chair in money matters, won’t question what, in hindsight, seems like the most unlikely of financial scenarios claimed by financial managers.
While there are trustworthy people working in finance, there is also much exaggeration and shading of truth done to gain your business. And that’s the best of the worst. The rules and terms are arcane and hard to understand. Most of us haven’t the time to investigate and learn everything we should know for wise investing. At the very least, one should stay with investments that we understand.
If you are saving for retirement, do your homework! Wall Street is not set up to make money for the little guys, but for those on the top.
Too many of us are clueless about our finances. This added to my belief from the outset that someone like Ruth Madoff could absolutely be unaware of what her Ponzi-scheming husband had done. (He pulled the wool over the eyes of captains of industry and CEO’s. Why not his wife?)
Read every statement from both banks and brokerages. Never assume they are always right. (Nor that they are always wrong). As consumers, as people who may invest through a company plan, as everyday people who will need to retire someday, educate yourself. Folks are terrified of the world of money, but like eating an elephant one bite at a time, it is possible.
Q: What was the writing process behind the novel? How long did it take? Any research involved?
A: I began researching my idea by reading over 50 books—first and most intensely, “The Wizard of Lies,” a nonfiction book about Madoff and his crimes, by Diana Henriques. I also had the good luck to speak with her in person.
Because the novel moved from 1960 to the present, I went to first source material to capture the past. I went online, to eBay and bought stacks of old magazines, ranging from Life to Ladies Home Journal and much in-between. I bought the manuals that those wanting to become stock brokers would have studied in the past and books about Wall Street and the world of finance from past to present.
I studied those who’d previously pulled of financial scams, including Charles Ponzi. Mitchell Zuckoff’s book, “Ponzi’s Scheme” fascinated me (and Ponzi’s crime took place in Boston.)
I studied the right way to run a wealth management fund, so I could figure out what my characters should have been doing and didn’t.
For the female lead, I dove into the world of settlement houses in the seventies, as well as immigration—as the criminal’s wife, in “The Widow of Wall Street,” does this work, eventually beginning a business to benefit immigrants with whom she works and becomes friends.
My research went over years, eventually reading the court documents for the ex-Madoff employees who were found guilty of fraud, and the evidence given against them by Frank DiPascali, a former member of the Madoff team, who cooperated with the government, and then died four months before his sentencing. (Which was expected to be reduced.)
I used the spine of the Madoff crime, based on my years of research, and then dove into my imagination and brought to life a marriage of characters caught in a similar crime. “The Widow of Wall Street,” a roman à clef, a ripped-from-the-headlines novel based, a drama of a marriage based on crimes and lies, moving from Brooklyn to Greenwich, to penthouse in Manhattan, to prison.
Q: What writers have influenced you and how so?
A: I read broadly and constantly—and am always being newly energized by other writers. One of the first writing seminars I ever took (a one-day offering) was taught by Margot Livesey. Her words that day, as well as her book, gave me exactly the encouragement and high bar that I needed.
Writer’s whose work has made me want to at least write well enough to kiss their hems—both for prose value and for knowing how to hit what Stephen King calls the gotta know include Rosellen Brown, Paul Theroux, Roxanne Gay, Tayari Jones, Olivia Goldsmith, Judy Blume, Kim McLarin, Joan Wickersham, Yaa Gyasi and Caroline Knapp.
Q: What other projects are you working on?
A: My current work-in-progress is a novel about women, weight, body shame, and the length to which women will go to punish and change themselves.
Q: Where is the novel available to buy?
A: It’s being carried in all bookstores (independent and chain) and in all online bookstores. JP residents can buy it at our wonderful local bookstore, Papercuts JP, located at 5 Green St. (in whistling distance of the post office!)
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: I’m in the midst producing a booklet called “The (Dis)Comfort of Money”, which I’ll be sharing with book clubs who chose “The Widow of Wall Street” (or any of my other novels) for their club. Like my other limited edition book club tomes (“The Comfort of Food and Storied Recipes) they are meant as educating fun reads.
In “The (Dis)Comfort of Money”, I interviewed authors about money, included warnings and cautionary tales, as well as tips for educating yourself from Gina Bolvin, president of Bolvin Wealth Management. Gina is also a writer, and I’ve included a bit of her novel-in-progress, Love.com, which follows a woman caught between work (in finance) and love. Readers can visit randysusanmeyers.com and look for the “book club’ page if they’re interested in having me visit their book club or want to get a copy of a booklet for their book club.