A Changed Man: A Novel

A Changed Man: A Novel

by Francine Prose

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Overview

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060560034
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/28/2006
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 986,167
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.01(d)

About the Author

Francine Prose is the author of twenty-one works of fiction, including Mister Monkey; the New York Times bestseller Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932; A Changed Man, which won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize; and Blue Angel, a finalist for the National Book Award. Her works of nonfiction include 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, a Fulbright, and a Director’s Fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, she 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. She lives in New York City.

Hometown:

New York, New York

Date of Birth:

April 1, 1947

Place of Birth:

Brooklyn, New York

Education:

B.A., Radcliffe College, 1968

Read an Excerpt

A Changed Man
A Novel

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 old Times Square on those righteous long-ago weekends when he and his high school friends took the bus into the city to get hammered and eyeball the hookers. He's read about the new Disneyfied theme park Times Squareland, but that's way more complicated than what he needs to deal with right now, which is navigating without plowing into some little old lady. A fuzzball of pure pressure expands inside his chest, stoked by patches of soggy shirt, clinging to his rib cage.

It's eighty, maybe eighty-five, and he's the only guy in New York wearing a long-sleeved jersey. All the white men seem to be running personal air conditioners inside their fancy Italian suits, unlike the blacks and Latinos, who have already soaked through their T-shirts. What does that make Nolan? The only white guy sweating. The only human of any kind gagging from exhaust fumes. While Nolan's been off in the boondocks with his friends and their Aryan Homeland wet dream, an alien life-form has evolved in the nation's cities, a hybrid species bred to survive on dog piss and carbon monoxide. Nolan needs to stop thinking that way. Attitude is crucial.

Last night, at his cousin Raymond's, he'd watched the TV weatherchipmunk chirping about the heat wave, so unseasonable for April, reassuring local viewers with his records and statistics lest anyone think: Look out, global warming, the world is ending right now. Why is everyone so surprised that the planet's cutting them loose? Ecological Armageddon was just what the doctor ordered to take Nolan's mind off his own problems as he'd faced the dark hours ahead until it was time to get up and borrow Cousin Raymond's truck, his money and pills, and vanish into the ozone. Nolan's hardly slept for two weeks, ever since he decided to turn. Two Xanax did nothing to stop his lab-rat brain from racing from one micro-detail to another.

Like, for example, sleeve length. Should he hide the tattoos? Or just wear a T-shirt and let them do the talking? If one picture's worth a thousand words, that's the first two thousand right there, two thousand minus the hi howareya nicetameetcha. Which was one reason to get the tats: cut through a load of hot air. On the other hand, strolling into the office of World Brotherhood Watch with Waffen-SS bolts on one bicep and a death's-head on the other might make it harder for Nolan to get his point across -- let's say, if the people he's talking to are hiding under their desks. Nolan wouldn't blame them. It hasn't been all that long since that lone-wolf lunatic in L.A. shot up the Jewish temple preschool.

In any case, it's going to be tough, explaining what he's doing at Brotherhood Watch, especially since Nolan himself isn't exactly sure. There are some . . . practical issues involved with stealing Raymond's truck plus the fifteen hundred bucks that, if you want to be literal, belongs to the Aryan Resistance Movement. But there's more to it than that. If it were just a question of disappearing and starting over, Nolan could have some fun. Sell SUVs in Palm Springs, deal blackjack in Las Vegas. Go to Disney World, put on a Goofy suit, let toddlers fuck with his head.

What he'd really like to do is give every man, woman, and child in the world the exact same hit of Ecstasy, the same tiny candy, pink as a kitten's tongue, that managed to turn his head around, or more precisely, to give his head a little -- well, a fairly big -- push in the direction it was already headed. But that's not going to happen, free Ex for the human race, so maybe the next best thing is to help other people find a more gradual route to the place where the Ex took Nolan.

Meanwhile, he knows that thinking like this will only get in his way. He'll stay cooler if he convinces himself that he's just interviewing for a job.

Has it only been two weeks since Nolan finally made up his mind? A long two weeks of trying to figure it out, even -- especially -- after he knew how he was going to do it.

No one promised it would be easy. But Nolan has prepared. He's read up, starting with two books by Meyer Maslow, the founder and current head of the World Brotherhood Watch Foundation. He actually went out and ordered them through the bookstore in the mall. The first book, The Kindness of Strangers -- Maslow's tribute to the people who saved his life when he was on the run from the Nazis -- was what made Nolan begin to think that maybe his plan could work.

For balance, Nolan has also been reading The Way of the Warrior, a paperback he took from the tire shop, borrowed from the backseat of a Ford Expedition some yuppie brought in for the Firestone recall.

A Changed Man
A Novel
. Copyright © by Francine Prose. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Richard Eder

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

Carlin Romano

“American literature’s finest satirist of professionals with problems . . . Prose knows the territory and tweaks it deliciously.”

Reading Group Guide

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, the foundation's fundraiser, 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 open-hearted, sharp-eyed, and as fundamentally decent as his mother's.

Masterfully plotted and 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. 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.

Questions for Discussion

  1. At the start of A Changed Man, we see Vincent Nolan, warts and all, during his impromptu interview at World Brotherhood Watch. Who is Vincent Nolan? What were your initial impressions of his character, and how did those impressions change over the course of the novel?

  2. How does Meyer Maslow's experience as a Holocaust survivor color his day-to-day outlook as leader of a human rights organization? What makes him tick? What are some essential contradictions in his personality?

  3. Discuss Bonnie Kalen's attitudes toward the men in her life -- her ex-husband, Joel; her sons, Danny and Max; her new house guest, Vincent Nolan; and her saintly boss, Meyer Maslow. To what extent does Bonnie define herself in terms of these relationships?

  4. How does World Brotherhood Watch use Vincent Nolan to its advantage? How does Vincent transition from neo-Nazi skinhead to national celebrity?

  5. Describe Bonnie Kalen's relationship with her sons, Danny and Max. What happens to that relationship when Vincent Nolan enters their lives? Does Nolan serve as a father-figure for the boys, or is his role in the family more complex?

  6. How would you characterize Vincent's reunion with his cousin, Raymond, on the television program, Chandler? What were your impressions of this development? What did you think of Danny Kalen and Meyer Maslow's involvement?

  7. Would you describe Danny and Max Kalen as typical adolescents and siblings? How prominently does their parents' divorce factor into their lives? How does each one cope with the challenges of teenage adulthood?

  8. How does faith factor into the choices and decisions made by Meyer Maslow, Bonnie Kalen, and Vincent Nolan? Is faith necessary for true change?

  9. By the end of A Changed Man, Vincent's future is uncertain. Do you see any hope of a relationship for Bonnie and Vincent? What were your thoughts at the novel's close?

About the Author

Francine Prose is the author of 13 books of fiction, including the novel Blue Angel, a finalist for the National Book Award. Her sole work of nonfiction, The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and the Artists They Inspired, was a national bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book. A recipient of numerous grants and awards, including Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships, she was a Director's Fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. She lives in New York City.

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Changed Man 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
sturlington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A reformed skinhead presents himself at the front door of a foundation run by a Holocaust survivor, offering himself up as a ¿changed man¿ who wants to help others like him. What¿s the catch? I wondered, naturally. But it turns out there is no catch. Certainly, the skinhead was never overly devoted to his cause, but as he moves in with the foundation¿s development director and her two teenaged sons, it becomes clear that he has no agenda other than getting along for as long as he can. I probably would have liked the novel better if there truly had been some master plan in the works, if the changes referred to in the title had occurred further along in the story and much more dramatically. A Changed Man was mildly entertaining but never life-changing.
CasualFriday on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If I'm in the mood for a frothy and funny summertime read, I wouldn't generally pick up a book about neo-Nazi skinheads. But I stumbled upon A Changed Man, and although I wouldn't call it frothy, it's an easy read and sometimes wickedly funny - a perfect beach read. It's about Vincent, a young skinhead complete with Waffen SS tattoos, who offers his help to a human-rights group headed by a Holocaust survivor. The organization puts Vincent up at he home of the development director, a tightly-wound divorced mom, and starts milking his touching reformation for all its worth in terms of publicity and donations. This is a book that could easily have devolved into something oh so very arch and mean-spirited, but in the end the flawed characters, with all their human ambiguities, are quite endearing. It made me smile.
madknitta on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What is Vincent Nolan hiding? From the moment that Nolan---a former member of the Aryan Resistance Movement---walks into the Brotherhood Watch office to denounce his racist ways and offer his services to "keep guys like me from becoming guys like me," a nice tension develops around the question of what Nolan is not revealing as he carefully crafts---and edits---his narrative of redemption. This tension carries the reader through an often sluggish first two-thirds of the novel, as Prose mucks about in the bourgeois ennui of Bonnie, the divorced mother of two who takes Vincent into her home as part of his rehabilitation, and Maslow Meyer, the heroic Holocaust survivor who founded Brotherhood Watch but now questions his own commitment to the cause. Unfortunately, Prose fails to reward the faithful reader with a satisfying payoff. What Vincent Nolan is hiding is disappointingly prosaic. And for a book that seeks to explore the messy contradictions of being human, the ending is too neat, too resolved. Prose raises interesting questions: How do each of us craft our own narratives of self? And what gets left out of those narratives? What does it mean to do good? And how do we resolve the tension when our good deeds have unintended consequences? Why is it hardest to be charitable to those closest to us? I just wish that Prose had spent as much time developing the plot as she does on probing what it means to be a changed man.
bhowell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had been meaning to read something by Francine Prose for a long time to see what everyone was talking about. It was with some trepidation however that I read the outline of the plot on the cover of A Changed Man, thinking it was not very promising. I was so wrong. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. The characters are not the stereotypes I had expected and the story is exciting. It is darkly comic, yet poses some of the most fundemental questions about how to be a moral human being. No one escapes the author's keen analysis of their behaviour and motives. A charismatic Holacaust survivor, Meyer Maslow heads a New York based Human Rights Organization. His crusade against intolerance and injustice have made him a hero and also a very rich man with a weakness for expensive clothes and wines. His heroism is practiced , for the most part, behind a desk in an expensive Manhattan corner office. Even before Vincent Nolan, a young neo-nazi wanting to change his life walks into his offices, Maslow is suffering from self doubt. His latest book is not selling well. His star seems in decline as he compares the media attention given to Elie Wiesel and to himself and finds himself wanting. Then he finds himself wanting because he cared about it. With the appearance of Vincent Nolan who says his mission is to "save guys like him from becoming guys like him", Maslow and his chief fundraiser Bonnie Kalen become convinced that Nolan may be their ticket to more media attention and more money. They literally take him in the same day, and this is a little unbelievable, he goes home with Kalen to stay at her cramped suburban home with her and her two young sons, aged 12 and 16. This a clear and foreboding demonstration of Maslow's ego and personal selfishness, that he demands that she do this rather than putting Nolan in a hotel and risk having him not show up in the morning. He spends not a moment worrying about her family's safety until he is reprimanded by his wife who is worried. Even then he lies to his wife and says that Kalen wanted to do it. Any sacrifice for the cause, so long as it doesn't disturb his elegant private life.Although Nolan tells them that his former neo-nazi buddies do not treat deserters kindly , neither Maslow nor Kalen have any real understanding of the potential danger Nolan brings with him or that he has not told them the whole truth. As the media frenzy grows, so does the attention of those Nolan left behind.The story takes place with the background of the trial and execution of Tim McVeigh and the bombings in Waco, Texas and a heightened media awareness of the danger of America's aryan nations, neo nazi, fringe groups. Bonnie Kalen is a complex and interesting character, more of a candidate for sainthood than Maslow, at least based on the events in this book. She is driven by her passion to "do good", to raise more money for the Foundation, to save more people but she is blind to other things, what is happening to her children, and how she is being manipulated by both Nolan and Maslow. Every character in this book including Kalen's sons, her ex-husband, and Maslow's wife are carefully drawn and fascinating. Full of wit and humanity, I recommend this book to everyone.
Asperula on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A skinhead escapes the life by heading to NYC to join with a former concentration camp prisoner's effort to bring humanitarianism to the world. I found the book somewhat predictable - the characters a little too formulaic - and I don't think that this is the best introductiont that I could have had to Prose.
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In seeing all the reviews on the back, I was expecting much more. Although the topic piqued my interest, the story fell rather flat and didn't elicit any empathy for any of the characters. Tolerance, racism, a thread of Nazi-ism and the Holocaust, all of that seems worthy, etc., but when the story really doesn't grab you or reel you in, it's "just" another ho-hum story... I like to close a book with almost a sadness that I'm closing the door on something... this one I felt like I was closing the door so I could get to a better read.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The plot in this novel flows so effortlessly that it helps create a story that is delightfully humorous and believable, if improbable. Only such a skilled author as Ms. Prose could introduce the reader to such an unlikely cast of characters that would seem to possess little chance of ever entering into each other's worlds. When they discover, however, that they share a common desire to actively make the world a better place, their differences become insignificant.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A novelist is a person who can live in other people's skins, said E.L. Doctorow. I know of no other writer (other than Francine Prose) who can imagine so fully what a great variety of people, clearly very different from her, think and feel. In this brilliantly keen novel, she displays her nearly clairvoyant talents in a Tolstoyan fashion, but in addition to the profound psychological insights, she displays something else that he rarely did: humor. A great, satirical, and entertaining book--perfectly timely, in our times of right-wing backsliding.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Eric Conger reads this story of improbables with both coolness and verve. The coolness is found in his reserved, compelling tone His verve is most obvious in the darkly comic, which abounds in 'A Changed Man.' A repellant skinhead, so steeped in his hateful prejudices as to almost embody them, enters the office of a human rights foundation, World Brotherhood Watch. Vincent Nolan is his name and he claims that he wants to change, completely. Meyer Maslow, an Auschwitz survivor and head of the organization has his doubts. But, he also has his beliefs, one of which is that even the scummiest of human detritus is some mother's son. In addition, it's not lost on Meyer that if Vincent could really change, he'd be a first-rate poster boy for the brotherhood of man. To this end, he's sent to live with Bonnie Kalen; she's divorced and chief fundraiser for the organization. The clash of cultures is fodder for much of Prose's incomparable satire. Both funny and thought provoking 'A Changed Man' is one more literary triumph by the author of Blue Angel. - Gail Cooke