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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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The End of Normal

ABC’s 20/20 and CBS’s 60 Minutes broadcast interviews last month with Stephanie Madoff Mack and Ruth Madoff, respectively, which left millions of Americans with the impression that everyone in the Madoff family, with the exception of Bernie, was so good they could each pose for holy cards.

The Madoffs, however, are all too human, according to Madoff Mack, the 30-something-year-old widow of the late Mark Madoff, who graduated from Roslyn High School in the early 1980s and was the eldest of Bernie and Ruth Madoff’s two sons. Madoff Mack chronicled her observations along with writer Tamara Jones in the just-published The End of Normal: A Wife’s Anguish, A Widow’s New Life (Blue Rider Press).

Two sets of people should read Madoff Mack’s memoir: those who cannot get enough of the Madoff case and individuals who have never been married but want to wed a divorced person, with school-aged kids.

Stephanie Madoff Mack’s rationale for writing the book is understandable. Dedicated to her young children, Audrey and Nicholas, she ardently argues that her late husband, their father, had nothing to do with their paternal grandfather’s crime, a multi-billion dollar Ponzi operation which will rightfully leave Bernie Madoff in prison for the rest of his life. Mark Madoff tragically took his own life in December 2010. The 46-year-old was by all accounts tormented by the accusations and legal actions leveled against him in the aftermath of a scheme which left thousands of families, businesses and charities in financial ruin.

Madoff Mack’s portrait of Bernie Madoff reminded me of the fictional Chauncey Gardiner, the character played by Peter Sellers in the 1979 film Being There. Like Madoff, Gardiner is an affable man who has little to say yet commands instant respect, even though it is unclear what Gardiner has done to earn such accolades. His former daughter-in-law, given the benefit of hindsight, reports she cannot recall Bernie Madoff ever reading a newspaper or a book.

How, then, are her then-father-in-law’s investment portfolios outperforming consistently the ones developed by the brightest Wall Street traders?

Ruth Madoff, her former mother-in-law, comes across as a Joan Rivers-like character. She wants to be the center of attention, regularly delivers withering one-liners aimed somewhere near her target’s aorta, and has no objections to plastic surgery. In Madoff Mack’s view, Ruth Madoff’s unwillingness to make a clean break from her husband contributed to Mark Madoff’s troubled mental state after Bernie Madoff was arrested in December 2008.

Madoff Mack’s book offers details about her courtship with Mark Madoff, and how they were set up on a blind date. Stephanie Madoff Mack also recounts the continuous tension between Mark Madoff and his first wife, Susan, regarding the circumstances under which Mark could visit the two children, now teenagers, from that union.

It was clear to this reader that Madoff Mack completely underestimated how difficult it would be for her to integrate herself into a blended family. One of the photos taken at the October 2004 wedding of Stephanie and Mark Madoff graces the book’s cover. The End of Normal is the book’s title. A more self-aware author might have wanted something like What Was I Thinking?

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net