Synopses & Reviews
On an unseasonably warm spring afternoon, a young neo-Nazi named Vincent Nolan walks into the Manhattan office of World Brotherhood Watch, a human rights foundation headed by a charismatic Holocaust survivor, Meyer Maslow. Vincent announces that he wants to make a radical change in his life. But what is Maslow to make of this rough-looking stranger who claims to have read Maslow's books, who has Waffen-SS tattoos under his shirtsleeves, and who says that his mission is to save guys like him from becoming guys like him?
As he gradually turns into the sort of person who might actually be able to do that, Vincent also transforms those around him: Maslow, who fears that heroism has become a desk job; Bonnie Kalen, the foundation's fund-raiser, a divorced single mother and a devoted believer in Maslow's crusade against intolerance and injustice; and Bonnie's teenage son, Danny, whose take on the world around him is at once openhearted, sharp-eyed, and as fundamentally decent as his mother's.
Masterfully plotted, darkly comic, A Changed Man illuminates the everyday transactions in our lives, exposing what remains invisible in plain sight in our drug-addled and media-driven culture. Remarkable for the author's tender sympathy for her characters, A Changed Man poses the essential questions: What constitutes a life worth living? Is it possible to change? What does it mean to be a moral human being? The fearless intelligence, wit, and humanity that inform this novel make it Francine Prose's most accomplished yet.
"Prose (Blue Angel
; The Lives of the Muses
) tests assumptions about class, hatred and the possibility of change in her latest novel, a good-natured satire of liberal pieties, the radical right and the fund-raising world. The 'changed man' of the title is Vincent Nolan, a 32-year-old tattooed ex-skinhead who appears one morning in the New York offices of World Brotherhood Watch, a foundation headed by Meyer Maslow, a Holocaust survivor. Vincent declares that he has had a personal conversion (never mind that it was triggered by a heavy dose of Ecstasy) and wants to work with the foundation to 'save guys like me from becoming guys like me.' Meyer takes Vincent on faith and convinces Bonnie Kalen, the foundation's fund-raiser, to put Vincent up in the suburban home she shares with her two sons, Max, 12, and Danny, 16. Prose tears into this unusual premise with the piercing wit that has become her trademark. Vincent becomes a media darling of sorts, and everyone wants a piece of him: the liberal donors and the television talk shows; Meyer, a figurehead so celebrated that even his close friends kiss up to him; and maybe even divorced Bonnie, who finds herself drawn to Vincent's charms. In more hostile pursuit of Vincent is his cousin Raymond, a member of the Aryan Resistance Movement, from which Vincent stole a truck, drugs and cash. In these circumstances, can a man truly change? And what is change not only for Vincent but for the other principals as well? Prose doesn't shy away from exposing the vanities and banalities behind the drive to do good. Fortunately, her characters are sturdy enough to bear the weight of the baggage she piles on them. Her lively skewering of a whole cross-section of society ensures that this tale hits comic high notes even as it probes serious issues. Agent, Denise Shannon. (Mar. 3) Forecast:
A Changed Man is less didactic than
Blue Angel and is set on a broader stage, which should broaden its appeal, too. Six-city author tour.
" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
(Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Francine Prose has come up with such a diabolical man-walks-into-a-room premise that her new novel...is awash in evil glee.... The combined effects of culture shock and sharp-eyed satire make this a mercilessly funny premise." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"A Changed Man reads like a mildly diverting romance suitable as script material for a Lifetime cable movie....But if A Changed Man fails on authenticity, it succeeds on melodramatic readability." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Prose deftly alternates between multiple narrative characters, a tour de force even though her empathy is uneven....Humor is an extraordinary gift. Pitted against the sorrows and injustices life inevitably flings, it is a fierce tool and Prose uses its ferocity to the fullest." San Diego Union-Tribune
"Clever Prose blends her caustic sensibilities with unforgettable characters....Prose's sense of humor is as keen as ever.... Life shifts for everyone in this remarkable novel. Maybe it will shift for you, too. Brace yourself." Miami Herald
"A Changed Man is the title of Francine Prose's novel of energetic exploration, cool irony and sheer I might almost say shameless suspense....[A] novel of ideas, and provocative ones." Los Angeles Times
"Prose creates a warm and busy microcosm of erring and atoning....[S]he also conjures a particular, sharply drawn universe of liberal-leaning New Yorkers who don't always behave well in the process of doing good all of them redeemed by her amused, caring touch. (Grade: A)" Entertainment Weekly
"Francine Prose is back with a powerful new novel about the possibility of starting over." Harper's Bazaar
"By the end of this fabulous novel, Prose's fierce intelligence, brilliant storytelling, and sharp characterization will not only provoke her readers into the oohs and aahs of recognition but will also offer them something profound." Boston Globe
"This book has it all: great characters, dark humor, a racing plot and important themes. I don't think you can ask for much more than that." Newsday
"An edgy, riveting tale, one of Prose's most interesting." Kirkus Reviews
"[R]iotously funny....Like novelist Richard Russo
, Prose uses humor to light up key social issues, to skewer smugness, and to create characters whose flaws only add to their depth and richness. This may well be Prose's best novel to date." Booklist (Starred Review)
"If A Changed Man
is satire, then so are lots of other things, including Anna Karenina
and Our Mutual Friend
. I'm not suggesting that this novel is playing quite in that league, but I am suggesting that Prose is striving for the same kind of large-scale social portraiture, and that her desire to capture contemporary Americans, with all their internal contradictions, solipsism and general screwed-upness, is guided more by the spirit of compassion than by that of mockery." Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com
(read the entire Salon.com review
What is charismatic Holocaust survivor Meyer Maslow to think when a rough-looking young neo-Nazi named Vincent Nolan walks into the Manhattan office of Maslow's human rights foundation and declares that he wants to "save guys like me from becoming guys like me"? As Vincent gradually turns into the sort of person who might actually be able to do this, he also transforms those around him: Meyer Maslow, who fears heroism has become a desk job; the foundation's dedicated fund-raiser, Bonnie Kalen, an appealingly vulnerable divorced single mother; and even Bonnie's teenage son.
Francine Prose's A Changed Man is a darkly comic and masterfully inventive novel that poses essential questions about human nature, morality, and the capacity for personal reinvention.
About the Author
Francine Prose is the author of twenty works of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, a Director's Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, Prose is a former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her most recent book is Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. She lives in New York City.
You open your novel A Changed Man with a character most of your readers probably have never met: the ex-skinhead Vincent Nolan. Was this "changed man" the inspiration for the book?
I certainly began with him. I was on the subway in New York once, and I saw these two very young skinheads all dressed up, with jackboots and shaved heads and I noticed that they looked terrified, like they'd been dropped from Mars. It was very clear to me that they were out of their element; this was not their home territory at all. That made me curious about who they were and what kind of people they were. Then I began to do research.
It's strange how life imitates art. Later I was in an elevator in Manhattan, and there was a middle-aged guy with his hair growing over tattoos on his head it looked as if a swastika had been there, and the laser removal hadn't done a good job. I thought this is my character, 10 years later.
Were there other topics you were keeping in mind as you wrote?
My aim was to write about this character, but I wasn't necessarily writing about neo-Nazis. I was writing about what it means to be a good person, what it means to change and how our culture hypes this change, this growing. As I was writing, I was dealing with the nature of American culture and the way in which anything can be turned into a publicity scam. Everyone in the novel is scamming to a degree. And more so than hatred, there's the idea of class resistance.
There's an element of suspense as to whether (and how much) Vincent will change did you know what he would do, or did that emerge as you wrote?
You hear writers say that their characters have a life of their own, and I had this experience with this book more than any other. Once I set these characters up and put them into motion, I really had no idea what would happen. The challenge was figuring out what Vincent's inner life is, his moral life how he distinguishes between good and evil, and what conscience is.
The American obsession with celebrity and redemption is put under the microscope here Bonnie's son, Danny, even becomes an object of this toward the end. How difficult do you think this obsession makes it for people to truly examine their beliefs?
It makes it much more difficult. If the mirror you're looking at yourself in is a TV talk show where by the end of the hour [the guest's] soul is revealed and people resolve to live new lives, and the reality of your own life is quite different, it's got to be discouraging.
I noticed that there are very few scenes in fiction where people are watching TV, there's the moment late in the book where Bonnie and her kids are watching themselves on TV, and I thought this was something I definitely wanted to do.
Did you intend to push readers' buttons?
I knew I had a risky topic, but I hope that the minute readers meet these characters, they'll feel about them the way I do. I have compassion for them, I never think of myself as having a moral. But certainly what seems so important to me now is what it seems we're losing in our culture: the very basic ability to empathize, to feel that others are human beings just as we are, though they may look different and have a different set of beliefs. Everything, to me, comes from that: civility, democracy, civic responsibility, and peace.
Ending the book where you did, with the suggestion of a future between Vincent and Bonnie, what do you think might have happened with them?
Who knows stranger marriages have taken place! I was very sorry to finish the book. But as a writer I like endings like Chekhov's story "Lady with a Dog," ending with a beginning it's perfect.