The Widow of Wall Street by Randy Susan Meyers
Published by Atria Books, 352 pages, $26
On page one, we see Phoebe, in enraged horror, visiting husband Jake in jail. From there, we go backward to their teenage meeting and marriage, then swoop forward through the magnificently rich life Jake made possible for their family. Telling himself and Phoebe of his desire to really provide, he develops, alongside his legitimate investing business, his own secret, ruinous Ponzi scheme: The Club. Their two children, the almost cynically sophisticated Kate and the more sensitive Noah, work for their dad, but they are kept from knowing the truth.
Meyers maintains a zesty irony toward her characters, like a knowing aunt describing them from the sidelines. But she actually makes Jake into a likeable guy, showing him mooning over Phoebe, full of almost naïve pride in his financial success, moody at times. Now we know why. And although Phoebe profits from the way-upward mobility his dark dollars bring, she is genuinely, ebulliently socially conscious. She organizes women to open a business at a settlement house where she’s worked (but yes, with help from Jake bucks and while wearing clothes equal to a week’s pay for these women).
When the blow falls, unforgiving eyes glare at Phoebe, who’s assumed to be complicit and made a pariah. Though innocent of her husband’s scheme, she’d brought him clients, and she experiences inner whippings of guilt, still loving but also hating Jake. Their children present the impossible choice: Dad or us. It’s torture for everyone. Yet Meyers brings lively, intelligent observations to this wrenching situation.
From Page 115: The black Town Car glided down Sixth Avenue with the slickness of money. Each week, Phoebe debated taking the train—her stated preference—versus arguing with Jake who insisted on sending a car as though she were made of sugar and angel wings. Debating with him left her so limp that by the time she arrived at Mira House she needed a strong cup of coffee before leading her Cooking for English session.