Synopsis from book flap, courtesy of Amazon.com:
On an unseasonably warm spring afternoon, a young neo-Nazi named Vincent Nolan walks into the 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.
Francine Prose’s characterization skills are superb, although her style took a bit of getting used to. Her style is almost too conversational and informal, which isn’t so much a criticism as much as an observation. I suspect the previous statement is more reflective of my personal preference anyway, rather than an actual detriment to the novel as a whole, because, despite what I say, the book was compulsively readable.
The fact that Vincent Nolan, the Neo-Nazi, was the most sympathetic, likeable character says a lot about Francine Prose’s ability. To be honest, though, Vincent wasn’t much of a Nazi to begin with, having (mostly) manufactured his bigotry after a bout of bad luck and bad decisions (girlfriend left him, he dunked an old Jewish lady in a swimming pool) left him homeless. Because the only person who could help him out was his cousin Raymond (a bona fide redneck with a swastika tattoo on his hand), Vincent figured that the best thing to do would be to join (or at least pretend to join) the Aryan Resistance Movement. A particularly good batch of ecstasy was instrumental in leading Vincent to renounce his bigoted ways and seek out the World Brotherhood Watch, headed by the charismatic (and sometimes opportunistic) Holocaust survivor, Meyer Maslow.