by Morgan on November 2, 2011
It started with the New York Times Business section, with this arresting photo of Ruth Madoff. The piece was published on Monday to coincide with the release of Truth and Consequences: Life Inside the Madoff Family. The book wasn’t written by Ruth and Andrew Madoff, but they collaborated closely with the author, Laurie Sandell, and it’s their picture on the jacket cover, not her’s. Ostensibly, it’s their story.
And it seems to me to be the quintessential American story: the swindling sociopath, the pampered blonde wife and two handsome sons. There’s the scandal, of course, but there’s so much more inherent: the Madoffs’ story is about victimization, and fidelity, ownership, and familial loyalty, money, power, vilification, capitalism, courtship and divorce, mental illness, publicity and celebrity, the take-down, the tell-all.
Everyone knows what happened to Bernie Madoff, and probably the bare bones of the fallout, too: his confession to his sons, Ruth’s exhaustive support of her husband (until just recently), the couple’s failed double suicide, the Shakespearean familial rifts, the media’s almost maniacal lampooning of the entire family, the eldest Madoff son’s suicide on the second anniversary of his father’s arrest.
I knew about all these things too, but I didn’t know, for instance, that Ruth had been with Bernie since she was 13 years old. She’s 70. I didn’t know that before her first-born child succeeded in ending his own life, he’d already tried once, and failed, after which he’d begged his mother to cut ties with her husband. She didn’t. I also didn’t know that Ruth still refuses to file for divorce. Or that she’s only breaking her interview ban now because Andrew asked her to help him promote this book, and the last time she didn’t do what one of her sons wanted…
There’s something here that’s begging me to tease it out. Leaving aside the inevitable question of whether she really didn’t have a clue as to what her husband was up to for all those years, what interests me is that there’s something more American about Ruth than perhaps anything else in the Madoff saga. I think her story just must satisfy something I’ve been missing in novels of late: dogged, fiercely real, undeniable character.
That’s why I bought the book, and will review it here. Y’all know I can’t resist an American epic.