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A CHANGED MAN by Francine Prose Kirkus Star


by Francine Prose

Pub Date: March 3rd, 2005
ISBN: 0-06-019674-2
Publisher: HarperCollins

A neo-Nazi abandons his Aryan supremacist buddies and joins a humanitarian relief organization.

When 30ish underachiever Vincent Nolan, perversely resplendent in shaved head and swastika tattoos, enters the Manhattan offices of World Brotherhood Watch, declaring himself “changed,” visions of unprecedented fund-raising success dance through the head of WBW founder and leader—and Holocaust survivor—Meyer Maslow (part Simon Wiesenthal, part Elie Wiesel). But Vincent’s presence—albeit polite, thoughtful, and nonthreatening—worries Meyer’s secretary-subordinate, single mom Bonnie Kalen, who impulsively agrees to take the skinhead into the home she shares with her sons, Max and teenaged Danny. Vincent is groomed as poster boy for WBW’s global efforts to combat human-rights abuses—as living proof that evil can be turned to good. This is a potent, however presently unfashionable theme, and Prose (Blue Angel, 2000, etc.; the nonfiction Lives of the Muses, 2002) expresses it in tingling dramatic scenes laden with pungent (often very funny) dialogue, as she depicts Vincent’s growing attachment to his host family, even as Meyer manipulates his new colleague’s conversion, and Vincent’s past reaches out for him. Not all the plot twists are credible, and it’s all probably too long. But it holds your interest, thanks to Prose’s deft use of present-tense narration and artful shifting of viewpoints, among Vincent’s honestly conflicted need to reinvent himself; Meyer’s posturing mixture of selflessness and vanity; Bonnie’s vacillations among competence, timidity, and her hunger for love; Danny’s obstructed progress toward maturity; and the anger nursed by Vincent’s cousin and neo-Nazi mentor Raymond, who knows Vincent is no saint and means to make him pay for his treachery.

An edgy, riveting tale, one of Prose’s most interesting.