At first glance, Stephanie Madoff’s Mack’s The End of Normal grabs our attention solely because she’s the wife of one of Bernie Madoff’s two sons, Mark. But the real value of the book is the experience she shares of her pain following Mark’s suicide, two years to the day after his father confesses to his Ponzi scheme.
This book exposes three elements: first, a girl’s view of the interactions among wives of the wealthy; second, the expected behind-the-scenes glimpse at Bernie Madoff; and finally, Stephanie’s personal experience following the suicide of her husband. Readers may be tempted to write off The End of Normal as a book to heal by simply because of its affiliation with the notorious Madoff name. In fact, the book’s final chapters share the painful details of a wife coping with loss. Through her openness, we get to know Stephanie and discover that at heart, she’s every bit as human as each of us.
The book begins with the author’s story of being a wealthy wife, and the petty interactions that play among the women in her immediate circle. This includes the wife of Mark’s brother Andy, her mother-in-law Ruth, and Mark’s ex-wife. What’s interesting is Stephanie is not your typical social climber. Instead, she brings a real take on the shenanigans that confront her. She meets Mark benignly on a blind date through a friend at her gym. Her life with Mark is so low-profile that when the Madoff mess hits the press, she quickly discovers that the reporters, who are staked outside her door, have no idea who she is.
Woven throughout the story are tidbits about Bernie Madoff. We soon realize that she knows Bernie exactly as we know him: he is an enigma. As his daughter-in-law for many years, she was invited into his home only a few times. She never has a true conversation with him, and we begin to realize his elusiveness was his complete M.O. We learn she could not have possibly been privy to the Ponzi scheme, since her own father fell victim to a large sum only months prior to Bernie’s unraveling. If we are to believe Stephanie and her facts, Mark also had no clue what his father was up to. In fact, Mark chose to sever all ties with his parents. Unable to find a job during the two years following his father’s confession, Mark tragically committed suicide by hanging himself, under the pressure of the now tainted family reputation.
The meaningful ending to the book reveals how Stephanie imagines Mark still with her, spooning with her in bed at night. In a state of shock, she carries his ashes around in a metal box and places them each evening on her nightstand. We live through her difficulties with family members and friends in unexpected ways. We witness her efforts to make those who were close to Mark happy by thoughtfully portioning his ashes. We join her as she scatters her portion at heartfelt locations, including outside the window of the first house she and Mark rented together. Stephanie shares beautiful details of how her two children respond over the first year to losing their father. Through it all, we find she allows herself to feel rage and sorrow and finally transition to a new home and new life.
This book is certainly more complex then I can tackle in this short review. It can be a great resource for others who have experienced the suicide of a loved one, a guide to personal healing. Often sharing the experience with others can profoundly encourage your understanding of your own emotions and reactions.