From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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.
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One sun-spangled afternoon at a rave, Vincent Nolan, a palooka who may be the most hapless neo-Nazi on record (he's thrummed up his politics so that his unsavory cousin, Ray, will let him crash on his couch), has a conversion experience: things go all glowy, he sees the error of his nefarious ways, and, soon afterward, he's ascending to the Manhattan offices of the World Brotherhood Watch, to offer his services to its founder, Meyer Maslow. Clearly, Maslow is based on Elie Wiesel, though Prose tries to forestall this assumption by giving Wiesel a cameo role elsewhere. Vince is taken home by Maslow's mousy assistant, a harassed single mother, who manages to overlook the Waffen-S.S. tattoo and fall for him, and, at a benefit at the Met Museum, he becomes a poster boy for the P.C. set. As a sendup, the book is quite fun, but too often Prose's writing falls victim to the very earnestness that she satirizes.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker