The seemingly blind love of a wife for her husband as he conquers Wall Street, and her extraordinary, perhaps foolish, loyalty during his precipitous fall, is expertly explored in this “ripped-from-the-headlines story about love, ambition, and forgiveness” (PopSugar)—perfect for fans of the TV show Billions.
Phoebe recognizes fire in Jake Pierce’s belly from the moment they meet as teenagers. After they marry and he creates a financial dynasty, she trusts him without hesitation—unaware his hunger for success hides a dark talent for deception.
But when Phoebe learns her husband’s triumph and vast reach rests on an elaborate Ponzi scheme, her world unravels. While Jake is trapped in the web of his deceit, Phoebe is caught facing an unbearable choice. Her children refuse to see her if she remains at their father’s side, but abandoning him feels cruel and impossible.
From penthouse to prison, with tragic consequences rippling well beyond Wall Street, Randy Susan Meyers’s latest novel exposes a woman struggling to survive and then redefine her life as her world crumbles. “An engrossing emotional journey” (Kirkus Reviews) and USA TODAY bestselling author Diane Chamberlain raves, “With all the suspense of a thriller, The Widow of Wall Street quickly pulled me into the story and didn’t let me go until the last page.”
Phoebe never hated her husband more than when she visited him in prison. The preceding nightmare of ordeals—eleven hours hauling a suitcase by bus, train, and cab, her muscles screaming from the weight—were the coming attractions of the misery she faced the next day.
She arrived at the grimy hotel close to midnight. Without sleep, exhaustion would lengthen every minute tomorrow. After wrestling her luggage to the bed, Phoebe thumbed through a small stack of folded sweaters, hoping they would withstand the raw weather. So many never-envisioned experiences: riding a dingy Greyhound bus; drowning ramen noodles in a hotel coffee maker; choosing clothes to wear to Ray Brook Federal Correctional Institution—and then envisioning her choice through her husband’s eyes.
Each month, Jake became more of an albatross, and yet, even now, through tooth-grinding anger, Phoebe found herself still seeking his approving smile and the satisfaction of soothing his melancholy.
Phoebe worried how long she could, would, continue making the long trip to this prison in upstate New York. One hour farther and she’d be in Canada. To stop visiting required strength she hadn’t yet found—loving and worrying about Jake had been her default for too long—so she agonized about everything from prison conversation to the choice between wearing a cardigan or crewneck sweater.
“Why won’t you stay longer?” She dreaded hearing those words Jake repeated every visit. “Other wives come Saturday and Sunday, not for a measly few hours.”
She’d stare just as she had before. Silent, hoping her eyes might express the command she couldn’t speak: Screw yourself, Jake. Her husband, once a titan—a god—now whined like a child.
What she said: “A few hours is plenty.”
What she didn’t say: Two days would kill me.
What he said: “Getting out after three hours must be nice.”
What he probably meant: I hate you for being free.
What she said: “Staying here must be hard.”
What she didn’t say: Leaving is deliverance from you.
Then she’d change the topic—a difficult task with a world of off-limit issues: The kids. Jake’s guilt. Her lack of money. Her not knowing this man; this fraud of a husband who steamrolled over her desperation to unravel the tangled skein of their past.
She held up first a soft white turtleneck, and then a subdued blue cardigan, and finally a camel-colored blazer. Jake liked her to dress sharp. Even in prison he demanded that she reflect well on him. How ironic. Yet, after building her life on pleasing Jake—even after him swindling her and everyone else in his life—she couldn’t shake the habit of following his orders.
Phoebe also needed to please her other husband, the new authority in her life—the Federal Bureau of Prisons—and adhering to the prison’s rules for visitors meant dressing to its standards.
“Visitors are held to a dress code before being admitted into the institution.”
Stark divisions outlined her life. Before, she would wander through the highest-end stores clutching fabric from an old Caribbean-blue dress, a shade that brightened her eyes, to match that color in a sweater. After . . .
“Visitors wearing transparent clothing, dresses, blouses or other apparel of a suggestive or revealing nature, halter tops, short shorts, miniskirts, culottes, or excessively tight fitting clothing will not be admitted into the institution.”
Too tired to concentrate, she placed her wardrobe choices on the extra twin bed. In the morning, when she knew the temperature, she could make her decision. And November temperatures in the Adirondack Mountains often fell below freezing.
After brushing her teeth and covering her face with motel lotion, she carried her laptop to bed. Her closest relationships were with her sister and her Mac; lately she had started Googling “average life of Apple laptops.” Imagining life without her electronic connection petrified Phoebe. Thoughts of spending almost two thousand dollars for a replacement provided equal amounts of panic.
Messages from frightening strangers stuffed her Gmail in-box. The distraught and inflamed found her no matter how many times she changed her email provider. Her encrypted email account—Hushmail—the sole communication method she managed to keep private besides her cell phone, contained only one new message, from her sister. Deb wrote daily, always cheerful. Today a long-ago picture of the two of them climbing on iron monkey bars in a Brooklyn playground accompanied her note.
No word from the kids. Occasionally, Kate sent updates about Amelia, Phoebe’s granddaughter. Noah wrote monthly emails filled with agony and anger.
After dashing off a quick note to Deb—“Everything is fine! Weather holding up—more tmw”—she opened Etsy, her online Xanax. Phoebe daydreamed of having an anonymous work life there, building friendships with a community of crafters who appreciated one another only for their dedication to the perfect quilt or ceramic mug. She could sell handmade recipe books devoted to cupcakes. At night, as she struggled toward sleep and fought against memories—and giving in to sleeping pills—she invented pen names: Mimi Appleby. Yoshiko Whisby. Gianna Gardner.
Phoebe tried holding back, but finally, pressing her lips hard together, unable to resist, she opened PrisonMessages.com. Within moments, she found herself captured by Karlgirl’s question: “Would you be angry if your man showed off your sexy pics?”
Phoebe couldn’t conceive of any man wanting photos of her, sexy or otherwise, but still, she slipped into the world and wondered about Jake in that situation.
The man she thought she’d married would have gouged out the eyes of any man trying to see her naked. Today’s Jake would likely sell pictures of her to the highest bidder.
Like a man vowing to stay off porn sites, she slammed her laptop closed.
Ten minutes later, Phoebe reopened it, and then unwrapped a packet of peanut butter crackers as she waited for the machine to come fully alive. She munched as she scrolled through the topics: “Prison Weddings.” “Legal Help.” “Loving a Lifer.” On and on. She never visited “Execution Watch” or “In Memoriam”—the latter full of tributes to those who died in prison—but she lurked in chat rooms, reading, trying to learn something about Jake’s world.
The women she followed were Mrs.25Years, Nick’sOne, and JimmysGirl, all experienced guides to prison protocol. From them, she discovered that underwire bras set off alarms and precipitated a guard’s too-familiar hands feeling you up. Phoebe dreaded seeing someone mention Jake. “Guess who my man saw in the yard!” PrisonMessages.com shackled you to your husband by name and deed.
She clicked “Loving a Lifer,” despite knowing that her love for Jake died more each day. After his confession, Jake had morphed into that awful relative attached to your flesh like a parasite; one you were forced to care for because he lived on your family tree.
She scrolled down the forum, reading titles.
Thread: “What bonds you to your lifer?”
If her daughter could see her, she’d fold her arms and ask, “Exactly, Mom. How can you continue choosing him over us?” Phoebe would again beg Kate to understand why leaving Jake alone, pummeled by a world’s anger, seemed like kicking him as he lay on the ground.
At the time, Phoebe hadn’t thought that she’d chosen Jake or rejected her children, not while the mash of shame, confusion, and loyalty roiled. She hadn’t known how to abandon him. Her son and daughter had their spouses, their children, and each other. Jake could lean only on her. She became his security blanket. He became her prison.
Thread: “I am exhausted.”
Yes. They were all tired, facing their angry men on visiting days. Tired of their men’s locked-up desperation boiled with resentment, these overly sensitive men offended by their need for women living on the outside. They exhausted their women, these men.
Thread: “Need topics for talking with my man on the phone.”
Conversation with Jake required only audible nodding from her.
Thread: “What are the best traits of your lifer?”
Inexhaustible stores of love dust sprinkled the screen. Despite having committed crimes so awful they had received life sentences, these men still inspired their women to enumerate their good qualities. Had they forgiven them their murders, their rapes, their thieving?
Jake swore that no singular moment had marked the beginning of his thievery, but he was lying. Everything began somewhere. He hadn’t slipped into his Byzantine plot. His had been no banana peel of a crime.
And now he talked about the guys. People imagined prisons as all fear and knives, but the truth didn’t unfold so tough. They cooked. They shared books. They were his goddamned buddies.
Phoebe longed for her children. Deep, visceral want threatened to topple her each morning. Antidepressants, antacids, and shame sustained her.
• • •
The cab driver didn’t acknowledge Phoebe, except for nodding when she asked for Ray Brook Federal Correctional. Maybe he was being polite, accustomed to allowing psychic space to sad women visiting locked up men, but more likely, she disgusted him. She recognized the expression: the shock of detection and the scowl.
The face of Jake’s crime. Wife of the demon. Even if she dyed her hair, wore sunglasses, dressed plainer than an Amish woman, someone shook his or her head as she passed.
The prison loomed. The cab stopped.
Tipping the driver worried her. Too little, and he’d despise her. Too much, and he’d hate her for giving him tainted money.
She paid the thirty-five-dollar fare, adding six dollars. Wind hit as she stepped out and faced the cold colorless brick of Ray Brook. Already she’d curled her hands into fists so tight that they ached.
Her entire marriage had been a battle against being known only as Jake’s wife—now she feared the battle could be over for good.
Phoebe had become two almost-spectral things: a widow to a living man, and a childless mother.
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This reading group guide forThe Widow of Wall Street includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
When Phoebe met Jake Pierce as a teenager, she knew he was a go-getter; he always said they’d be partners. As he creates a thriving financial dynasty, Phoebe trusts him without hesitation—unaware he is paving a path of deception.
When she learns her husband’s triumph and vast reach rests on an elaborate Ponzi scheme, her world unravels. Jake’s crime is uncovered, opening up speculations, which the world obsesses over. Did Phoebe know her life was fabricated by fraud? Was she an accomplice in this scheme?
Addressing issues of trust and love, The Widow of Wall Street depicts Phoebe’s struggle as she sets out to redefine her life after her perfect world crumbles.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. How did the first chapter establish Phoebe as a character?
2. Phoebe remarks to Jake as they discuss their parents’ marriages: “You make marriage sound horrid. Like a game.” He responds with, “The game of love, baby. Everything in life is some sort of contest, and everyone wants to be a winner . . . You and I, we’ll always win” (p. 15). What did Jake mean by this statement? Was his belief apparent in his actions throughout the book?
3. Describe Phoebe’s relationship with Jake in college.
4. Phoebe and her college professor Rob Gardiner embark on a whirlwind relationship while she is still dating Jake. What impact does the professor have on Phoebe’s character and some of her actions?
5. Why did the author decide to write Phoebe and Jake’s story chronologically? Could the author have chosen a different method?
6. What might have been a reason for Phoebe to attempt to pass off her child as Jake's? What did you think about her actions?
7. As the doctor is examining Phoebe at the hospital, she realizes that her “humiliation had no endpoint” (p. 46). How did the author portray Phoebe’s humiliation in this scene?
8. Discuss the structure of the novel. What is the purpose of having chapters that alternate between Phoebe’s viewpoint and Jake’s viewpoint?
9. How does Jake view the Club?
10. At one of their functions, Phoebe, at Jake’s request, talks up his work to some of the potential clients’ wives (p. 106). How would describe her actions? If you were in her place, would you do the same thing for your husband?
11. When Jake stops by the Cupcake Project, he says to Phoebe’s co-workers: “I planned on taking my wife for a glass of wine before we went to the synagogue dinner. Who knew I’d be interrupting the Sara Lee sweatshop?” (p. 131) What do you sense in Jake’s tone? What does it say about his character?
12. Phoebe recalls quotes from a copy of The Feminine Mystique: “It is easier to live through someone else than to become complete yourself,” and “The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own” (p. 134). How do you see these quotes apply to Phoebe’s present life?
13. How do you think Phoebe was able to keep grounded while Jake lost himself to the greed?
14. On page 168, Phoebe tells Ira at lunch, “Everyone acts differently when they’re with their husband or wife.” She doesn’t seem to believe in her own words—do you?
15. When Jake admits his crimes to his family, did you expect the reactions that occur? What did you think about Kate’s reaction specifically? Whose side are you on?
16. People accuse Phoebe of being involved in her husband’s schemes. What led to Phoebe’s ignorance? Should she have known?
17. “Love and lying coexisted, she supposed” (p. 276). Do you agree with Phoebe’s supposition? Why or why not?
18. What pushes Phoebe past the point of forgiving her husband? Are you surprised by the catalyst(s)? Should she have left her husband sooner?
19. Did the ending satisfy and bring closure? Were you imagining something completely different? What do you think happens after the close of the book?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Three years into their marriage, Phoebe and Jake’s relationship has shifted somewhat. How did their lives change? Is this change inevitable in all marriages?
2. “Katie and Noah didn’t want to relate to her in that constant way of little kids anymore—but they wanted her there and available at all times. Like a lamp. Perhaps you didn’t need to turn it on every minute, but you sure as hell wanted to know that the moment it got dark, you could. Maybe Phoebe was fooling herself, but teaching children how to fend for themselves every now and then seemed part of the parenting job” (p. 116). Do you agree with how Phoebe views being a parent? Is this a philosophy you have taken when raising children?
3. While Kate and Noah, like their mother, begin to show interest in humanitarian efforts, Jake is displeased: “He didn’t slave so that his kids and wife could grime away down there while he came home to an empty house. He’d be damned if the three of them went off to save the world with cupcakes and basketballs, while he looked like Scrooge counting money in the back room” (p. 154). Later, Phoebe and Jake also argue about Noah’s future, differing on their idea of a good life for him. Do you think this is a common argument between parents? What do you think of Jake’s thoughts? What values are important to you versus the ones important to society? Discuss with your book club.
4. In the letter to Kate, Phoebe writes, “Don’t wear your father’s sins” (p. 257). If you were Kate, how would you react to this statement? Discuss burdens that children might carry from their parents.
5. Why did the author chose the title The Widow of Wall Street? What is significant about it?
Randy Susan Meyers is the bestselling author of Waisted, Accidents of Marriage, The Comfort of Lies,The Murderer’s Daughters, and The Widow of Wall Street. Her books have twice been finalists for the Mass Book Award and named “Must Read Books” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. She lives with her husband in Boston, where she teaches writing at the Grub Street Writers’ Center.
“As this compelling story unfolds, you realize nothing is as uncomplicated as it seems, especially when you've been married almost 50 years and you take so seriously your marital vows because you felt both gratitude and debt when you uttered those words.”
– The Associated Press
“[A]n engaging and sharp reflection of the rapid changes in marital dynamics over the course of the 20th century, as well as a cautionary tale about the dangers and allure of ambition in the heyday of Wall Street.”
– Publishers Weekly
“Full of deceit, scandal, and guilt, her novel expertly explores how rising to the top only to hit rock bottom affects a family. The consequence will leave readers reeling.”
– Library Journal
"A ripped-from-the-headlines story about love, ambition, and forgiveness."
– PopSugar (Top Books of 2017)
“A provocative tale of loyalty and morality, this novel will introduce you to the scandalous side of New York.”
“When Phoebe and Jake Pierce meet as teenagers, she knows he’s someone on the way up, and she wants to be there as he climbs the Wall Street ladder. He gets everything he ever wanted. When it turns out that Jake’s success rests on a huge Ponzi scheme, Phoebe has to make an excruciating choice.”
– New York Post ‘Must Read Books’
“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. Heartbreaking.”
– The Boston Globe
“Compelling. This is a great read . . . An engrossing emotional journey.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“Phoebe falls for Jake Pierce hard when they’re still just teenagers: She seems to know even before he does that he’ll go on to conquer a financial empire and rule the Wall Street scene. But the dirty secret behind Jake’s success will eventually become the downfall of this couples’ glittering life together think of The Widow of Wall Street as The Wolf of Wall Street — except told from the side of the wife, more scintillating, and a testament to the power of a woman’s ability to survive it all — it’s a must-read that will dazzle and repel you, in equal measure."
– Refinery 29
“I dare you not to read Randy Susan Meyers’ The Widow of Wall Street in one big gulp. A fascinating page turner that somehow manages both to indict and absolve.”
– Melanie Benjamin, New York Times Bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue.
“Randy Susan Meyers made me feel, on a visceral level, the giddiness of Phoebe and Jake’s rise to power and the mounting panic as their lives and marriage began to crumble. Brilliantly executed and beautifully written.”
– Diane Chamberlain, USA Today bestselling author of Pretending to Dance
"A riveting and engrossing read that I finished in one greedy gulp.”
– Alyson Richman, bestselling author of The Lost Wife
Praise for Accidents of Marriage
"This novel's unsparing look at emotional abuse and its devastating consequences gives it gravity and bite, while a glimpse into a physically damaged mind both surprises and fascinates."
“Meyers puts a Boston family overwhelmed by a tragic accident under the literary microscope.”
– Kirkus (starred review)
"Unputdownable and unforgettable . . . It’s one of the most memorable stories about a marriage I’ve ever read."
– Liane Moriarty, New York Times bestselling author of The Husband's Secret
“A complex, captivating tale.”
– Boston Globe
Praise for The Comfort of Lies
"This meaningful novel is, at its heart, a multi-faceted love story. It's about how people do the wrong things for the right reasons and vice versa. This is the story of the ways that families-- bonded by blood and by choice-- can save or slay us. With a vision that is generous, yet unsentimental, The Comfort Of Lies is a testimony to the healing power of the truth."
– Tayari Jones, author of 'Oprah Book Club Pick' An American Marriage
"Meyers’ women resonate as strong, complicated and conflicted, and the writing flows effortlessly in this sweet yet sassy novel about love, women and motherhood."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Meyers has crafted an absorbing and layered drama that explores the complexities of infidelity, forgiveness, and family.”
“Sharp and biting, and sometimes wickedly funny when the author skewers Boston’s class and neighborhood dividing lines, but it has a lot of heart, too. Meyers writes beautifully about a formerly good marriage — the simple joys of stability, the pleasures of veteran intimacy — and deftly dissects just how ugly things can get after infidelity.”
– The Boston Globe
Praise for The Murderer's Daughters
“From the very first page and straight on until the last, the clear and distinctive voice of Randy Susan Meyers’s will have you enraptured and wanting more--even though self- preservation may curl you into a ball to shield yourself from the painful circumstances of the two sisters. This is a heart- breaking and powerful novel.”
– Massachusetts Center for The Book, ‘Must Read Book’
“All too believable and heartbreaking.”
– Los Angeles Times
“Unshakable truths at every turn.”
– The Denver Post
“Dives fearlessly into a tense and emotional story of two sisters anchored to one irreversible act of domestic violence."
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