Last week Mrs. Ronald Weinstein, 60, former CFO of the Jewish women’s organization Hadassah, published her first book, Madoff’s Other Secret. Her claim to have been Bernie Madoff’s long-time mistress is the “secret,” but that aside the major revelation is on page 123, when Mrs. Weinstein tells us Bernie “had a very small penis.”
I was rather dreading a bog of phallic analysis but only a page or so followed on the effects of penis size with the observation that Bernie was curiously intent on bringing this matter up. Still, men of all manner and size band together when penis matters surface and their defence mechanisms cannot be overstated. When I told a male acquaintance of mine whose mind is almost exclusively focused on philosophy and science that Sheryl Weinstein’s contribution to the Madoff affair was details on the circumference/length issue, he became nearly belligerent. “How did she know it was very small?” he asked. “Just how many penises had she seen?”
Sheryl Weinstein claims to have been the mistress of Bernie for some 20 years, but the actual length of their extramarital affair, like that of Bernie’s penis, is a bit murky. They met in 1988 when she was referred to Madoff by one of Hadassah’s sizable donors. They had some months of making out and dry humping or whatever it was called then and finally embarked on an affair in 1993. As Hadassah’s CFO she played a significant role in the $40 million invested with Madoff. She was also CFO of the Weinstein household and all its money went over the Madoff rainbow. (Mr. Weinstein, either a brick or else a doormat, is still married to Sheryl and on Ritalin.) Sheryl thought Madoff “chivalrous” and enchanting. On June 29, 2009, as one of nine witnesses delivering “victim impact” statements in the Manhattan federal court, she labelled him “Madoff the Beast.”
Her book belongs to the kiss ’n’ tell genre, a bastard offspring of autobiography. This is a dodgy field. Sorting out fact from fiction is almost impossible. Who knows how much of Kathryn Harrison’s 1997 book The Kiss detailing consensual sex with her father is true? Women tend to write these books more often than men but then men almost never talk about the intimate physical details of their sexual lives. I can’t recall ever hearing a man describe a clitoris, and should he do so, it’s unlikely to be about a specific woman.
Weinstein’s book is vanilla-bland though fascinating because you wouldn’t expect an affair with the Dracula of con men to be so bloodless. This is almost Doris Day sex where a new black negligee creates an apogee of excitement. The publishers must have gone nuts:
Editor: “Look, we’ve got to have some real dirt here. Some sexy stuff.”
Mrs. Weinstein: “We did enjoy blintzes and caviar in hotel rooms, sometimes when we were undressed.”
“No, really sexy stuff to prove you’ve been . . . there.”
“Would a word about his penis do?”
Dating a female writer can be perilous, as Chopin found out when he took up with George Sand. Ms. Sand collected some pretty significant boyfriends including the French poet Alfred de Musset—must have been her cross-dressing that attracted as she was said to be physically unprepossessing—and then made her reputation writing about how difficult they were. Simone de Beauvoir detailed her sexual exploits with the writer Nelson Algren as well as with existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre.
The female sexual confession was immensely popular in the early 20th century. Margarete Böhme’s 1905 bestseller The Diary of a Lost One used an alter ego to trace her life as a fallen woman, but by 1929 Alice Prin, a.k.a. Kiki de Montparnasse, the famous model of photographer Man Ray, published her kiss ’n’ tell as Kiki’s Memoirs. Hemingway’s introduction did not soothe the New York Public Library, which placed it in a special reserve section till at least the late nineties.
Low lit has developed genres with bells and whistles. Kiss ’n’ tell books have spawned “Kiss and Sell” agencies. The muddling up of fact and fiction has given us the new online genre of Real People Fiction and Fanfic with made-up tales, often sexual, about real celebrities. This is gutter stuff, a long way from “faction” debates—the propriety of using real people in fictional novels—sparked by E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 book, Ragtime.
Bertrand Russell did the reverse brilliantly. He put a dozen or so of Shakespeare’s fictional characters on the psychiatrist’s couch. One could elaborate on that. What about a book in which Romeo tells what it was really like to date Juliet with that damn nurse coming in with milk all the time? Or the goods from Ophelia: “I saw him sitting on a wall one day turning a skull over in his hand and it was so weird. I said ‘Would you like some breakfast, Hamlet?’ But his appetite was absolutely gone. His mum had told him he had a small penis.”
As the British novelist A.S. Byatt said last month in her attack on faction: “Now we have the blog and Facebook [and] everyone is a writer, and everyone’s idea of anyone else, kind or cruel, just or unjust, is available on the Web to be believed or mocked. Blogs and Facebooks too have caused suicides. Writers often realize the power of writing too late.”
But not Mrs. Weinstein. She’s hoping better late than never.