Author Lisa Novick Goldberg is the daughter of Herbert "Big John" Novick, the Genovese crime family's money man

By Sam Gillette
June 25, 2020 05:25 PM
Lisa Novick Goldberg
The author
| Credit: Courtesy Lisa Novick Goldberg

Lisa Novick Goldberg always knew that her family was "different."

But it wasn't until she received a subpoena to appear before a grand jury in December 1988 that she realized that her dad, Herbert "Big John" Novick, was the Genovese crime family's money man. After her two-hour testimony, Goldberg, who admits to having struggles with mental illness, went into what she describes as a "catatonic state" for seven days.

"I stopped eating. I couldn't sleep. I lost all sense of reality. My head just took on a life of its own in terms of, 'Is something going to happen to my father? What's going to happen here? Is this going to go on forever?'" Goldberg, now 62, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview about her book, The Apple and the Shady Tree: The Mafia, My Family, and Me. "Until I couldn't take it anymore. My parents got me a psychiatrist. Prozac had just been introduced and it worked on me."

Goldberg was asked to testify because her father had businesses under her name (with her consent). Herbert Novick, who passed away in 2010, was never indicted or sent to jail.

The Apple and the Shady Tree, which is an introspective look at the author's dysfunctional family, recounts mob-related murders and stories of mob members, like Venero "Benny Eggs" Mangano and Funzi Tieri, who her father brought around their home in 1960s and '70s Brooklyn. 

"I grew up with all of the top members of the Genovese family or those who were working themselves up. Funzi Tieri, who in the '70s was the head of the Genovese family. Then he was replaced by Benny Eggs Mangano. These were my father's closest circle," Goldberg explains. "I didn't grow up in your typical family where Sunday, we sat in front of the TV, and watched football with snacks on the coffee table."

She continues: "Sunday sports day was a business. My father was involved in the betting, so sports was not a fun thing... I didn't know what my father did. I didn't know the extent of his involvement. I just knew he had all these friends."

The Apple and the Shady Tree
Credit: O'Possum Press
Lisa Novick Goldberg
The author with her dad
| Credit: Courtesy Lisa Novick Goldberg

The book opens with the news that her father's friend Irwin Schiff had been murdered, execution-style. Just a few weeks before, Goldberg had met Schiff at a dinner with her parents.

A Turbulent Home Life

Beyond these Goodfellas-esque anecdotes, Goldberg's memoir is also a candid look at her family's history of mental health issues and her complicated relationship with her father. She writes of suffering from depression and anxiety and believes her mother, who is now in a nursing home, suffers from borderline personality disorder. (Her mother has never been formally diagnosed.)

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"Right away, the sensational end of it is the mafia, the murders, my father's role as a money man for the Genovese family, but that's only a part of the book," Goldberg explains. "The book is about a father-daughter relationship. A daughter who desperately wanted to be closer to her father, a father who loved his daughter, but for a million reasons, just couldn't make the so-called normal relationship work."

She adds: "It's about decades, generations of mental illness and how it impacted a family, [while] in the background [there was] mob relationships. Which, of course, worsened everything."

Goldberg, who also has a sister, recalls her mother and father constantly fighting and discusses their problematic parenting. She writes of being left in a hot car for more than half an hour while her parents ate lunch when she was a young child.

Another time, when Goldberg was four years old, her mother fed her whitefish without taking the bones out first. A one-inch bone got caught in Goldberg's tonsils and her mom used tweezers in an attempt to dislodge the bone, according to the book. Luckily, Goldberg's dad took her to a nearby dentist who got the bone out. But the inside of Goldberg's throat was scratched and sore.

Frank Tieri
Frank Tieri
| Credit: Thomas Monaster/NY Daily News Archive via Getty

"She was a beautiful woman. When she would walk into a room, men and women would take notice," Goldberg says of her mother. "She was also extremely bright, very precocious. Whether being married to a man like my father exacerbated any underlying illnesses that she had, or whether it just got full-blown, the wild mood swings. There were no boundaries with her... I was not only the child, I was a substitute parent. She parentalized me very early on."

Goldberg's father was very different from her mother — when he was around. His wife and children were used to his odd hours and his perpetual absences. But, while Goldberg acknowledges her parents should never have had children, she still loves them.

"My father was an enigma to me. He was born in 1928. He was a tough guy. His feelings, you don't share your feelings. You don't go to psychiatrists, and you don't complain. You take care of your family. You make a living," Goldberg says. "He was very much a man's man. Two things that friends have told me when I was an adult, that I find a lot of comfort in, [is] one, he never killed anybody and two, he never had a girlfriend. In his circles, that might be a pretty low bar for everybody else, but I was very proud of my father."

Lisa Novick Goldberg
Goldberg and her dad
| Credit: Courtesy Lisa Novick Goldberg

Book Is Part of Author's Self-Discovery

Always more "sensitive" than her parents, Goldberg says she didn't really begin to discover herself until her father's passing in 2010. Writing The Apple and the Shady Tree was a big part of that journey, though she often experienced panic attacks while revisiting some of the more difficult moments of her life.

Goldberg hopes that writing down her history will also help her daughter Maggie, 30, who she shares with ex-husband Mark Goldberg. (The author is now married to Stanford Blake and runs his mediation business. Blake, 72, was a circuit court judge for 22 years.) 

"I hope to get across that people do survive from mental illness, from difficult situations," she says. "What I say all the time is that our past explains us, but it doesn't define us. Through therapy I learned, if I don't confront my past, and the secrets, and the craziness, if I don't get some answers, I'm never going to be able to overcome the anxiety that I have. I'm never going to be able to have real, healthy relationships."

Goldberg adds: "So at 57, 58 years old, I started to do investigative work on where I really came from. That helps me to understand why I have my anxiety, why I am the way I am, and how I can kind of break free from all of that."

The Apple and the Shady Tree is on sale now.