Books

the story behind the book | kate tuttle

Reimagining the lives of Ruth and Bernie Madoff

david wilson for the boston globe

Randy Susan Meyers borrowed a real-life story for the building blocks of her fourth novel, “The Widow of Wall Street,” which chronicles a couple’s marriage as they amass great wealth and then lose it all when the husband is revealed to have committed financial fraud. “I make no bones about it,” said Meyers, whose protagonists are based on Ruth and Bernie Madoff. “I consider it a roman à clef, where I used the spine of the crime — and then imagined the marriage.”

First, though, she needed to understand the crime itself. “Doing that financial and criminal research was fascinating,” Meyers said. “I did things like buy stockbroker manuals from the 1960s on eBay!”

In Meyers’s fictional account, Phoebe and Jake Pierce meet and marry very young, just as the Madoffs did. “I think when you’ve been married that long, at a certain point you become as much brother and sister as you do husband and wife,” she said. “It makes it even harder to leave somebody — even when you know you should.”

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Few couples find their marriages tested by federal prosecution for fraud, but issues of deception, rationalization, and guilt are far more common, Meyers said. “How often do we look at friends and go, ‘Why is she staying?’ ”

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Visiting with book clubs reading her book, Meyers says she’s heard from many women who can’t believe the wife was unaware of her husband’s crimes. “We want to think that, because we want to think we’re protected,” she said. “There’s part of us that’s angry.” Still, she added, “I never thought she was guilty. I do have sympathy for her. I think it’s heartbreaking.”

Meyers will read at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Newtonville Books, 10 Langley Rd., Newton Centre.

Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.