Summary and book reviews of A Changed Man by Francine Prose

A Changed Man

By Francine Prose

A Changed Man
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2005,
    421 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2006,
    448 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

Chapter One

Nolan pulls into the parking garage, braced for the Rican attendant with the cojones big enough to make a point of wondering what this rusted hunk of Chevy pickup junk is doing in Jag-u-ar City. But the ticket-spitting machine doesn't much care what Nolan's driving. It lifts its arm, like a benediction, like the hand of God dividing the Red Sea. Nolan passes a dozen empty spots and drives up to the top level, where he turns in beside a dusty van that hasn't been anywhere lately. He grabs his duffel bag, jumps out, inhales, filling his lungs with damp cement-y air. So far, so good, he likes the garage. He wishes he could stay here. He finds the stairwell where he would hide were he planning a mugging, corkscrews down five flights of stairs, and plunges into the honking inferno of midafternoon Times Square.

He's never seen it this bad. A giant mosh pit with cars. Just walking demands concentration, like driving in heavy traffic. He remembers the ...

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Introduction

One 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 Vincent gradually turns into the sort of person who might actually be able to achieve his objective, he succeeds in transforming those around him: Maslow, who fears that heroism has become a desk job; Bonnie Kalen, ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

If you think you'd enjoy a 'comedy of manners' which fairly gently skewers the middle-classes then this might be one for you; but if you're anticipating a book that digs deep you might be disappointed.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Harper's Bazaar

Francine Prose is back with a powerful new novel about the possibility of starting over.

Newsday

This book has it all great characters, dark humor, a racing plot and important themes.

Los Angeles Times Book Review - Richard Eder

A novel of ideas, and provocative ones. Class--the dirty American secret--is no secret to Prose.

Entertainment Weekly

[An] artfully structured novel . . . [with] a selection of showstopping literary set pieces.

Miami Herald

[A] brilliant new comic novel . . . Prose's sense of humor is as keen as ever.

Library Journal - Jim Coan

Bonnie is well portrayed and lifelike, but Vincent is not - he's more a construct than a character. As a result, the novel feels sidetracked, and though any new work by the award-winning Prose will attract readers, this one is frankly not all that interesting.

Kirkus Reviews

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

From Booklist - Joanne Wilkinson

Starred review. 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.

Publishers Weekly

Starred review. Her lively skewering of a whole cross-section of society ensures that this tale hits comic high notes even as it probes serious issues.

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Beyond the Book

Francine Prose is the author of about 20 books, including Blue Angel (2000) which was a finalist for the National Book Award; she is considered one of America's sharpest cultural satirists. She says "I really do love my characters...I don't find them guilty of anything that I'm not guilty of myself."

She says she was inspired to write A Changed Man after seeing two skinheads on the New York subway, all dressed up with jackboots and shaved heads, but looking terrified - it was clear to her that they were out of their element, which made her curious about what kind of people they were. Later she saw a middle-aged man with hair growing over his tattoos, one of which looked like a swastika and she thought 'this is...

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