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The End of Normal by Stephanie Madoff Mack
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's review
Nov 05, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: audio

Stephanie Madoff Mack had it all: homes in Soho, Greenwich and Nantucket, a doorman, a dog walker, reliable childcare for her two beautiful children, a handsome rich husband who adored her, a famous even wealthier father-in-law, luxury cars, nice clothes. Then in December 2008, her father-in-law Bernard Madoff, confessed to his two sons that his entire life and business was a giant lie. The rest is history. Thousands of people lost millions of dollars from "investing" with Bernie Madoff, including Stephanie Madoff's own step-father.

Over night all members of the Madoff family became pariahs, hounded by the FBI, the SEC, and the media. Mark and Andrew, Bernie's two sons, were the ones who turned their father in to the FBI, but no one would believe that the sons had not been involved in the fraud. As lawsuits piled up, and bankruptcy loomed, Mark and Stephanie faced total isolation, and became estranged from the rest of the family who refused to sever relations with Bernie. Mark spiraled down into a deep depression and attempted suicide. After his failed attempt, he went into counseling and seemed to be recovering.

Two years to the day from his father's arrest, Mark hanged himself in the Soho loft, while his wife and daughter were in DisneyWorld, and his son slept in the next room. His final texts, sent on December 11, 2010, at 4:14 a.m., while Stephanie slept, simply said: Please send someone to take care of Nick and I Love You. Suddenly Stephanie's life was totally upside down. Now she not only had no money, no job, and myriad legal problems, but she had no husband, and her children had no father.

I was hesitant to listen to this in audio, although it is a format I really enjoy, because the author reads this herself. I thought it might be self-serving, or whiny, but it's not. It's a straight forward account of a young woman's change in circumstances and how she is dealing with the problem. Oh. Yes. there is certainly some rancor toward her mother and father -in law. There is certainly still an unsteady relationship with Mark's brother Andrew. And yes at times it is difficult to feel sorry for someone who still has a dog walker, nice cars, a doorman, and several houses. But she is very clear that all that privilege does not make up for being deprived of Mark's presence. She tells her story, from the beginning of her relationship with Mark, to their early days together, meeting the senior Madoffs, their wedding, early days of marriage and pregnancy and parenthood.

She is bluntly honest about the trauma and terror of the days following finding out about the Ponzi scheme, and her anguish as she watched the agony her husband and brother-in-law went through trying to convince the world that they were not involved. Her animosity toward her mother-in-law Ruth Madoff is especially well documented. She relates her panic at receiving those last two text messages from her husband, her frantic efforts to get her step-father to gain access to the apartment home to check on her son, and the subsequent flight home and how she had to explain to her 4 year old daughter that "daddy had a boo boo in his brain, and it made him die, and now he's in the sky and you can talk to him anytime you want. He can't come home but he's there for you anytime you want to talk to him."

She ends by reading from the first paragraphs of Mark's unfinished book that he had begun writing before his death. He wanted desperately to vindicate himself, to recapture the respect he felt he'd earned by all his hard work, and that he'd lost because of his father's transgressions. Her heart-felt passion is at once emotional and composed. No matter whether the reader believes that the sons were involved or not, and no matter what other financial tragedies that Bernie Madoff unleashed on the world, this story is a compelling personal one that presents a story needing to be told.

Penguin sums it up in their press release: "Stephanie Madoff Mack has written this at once searing and poignant memoir in order to tell her husband’s story—for him, for their children, and for the world."

Ms. Madoff gives us just enough emotion to be able to understand her feelings, without having to wallow in them.
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