Picks and Pans Review: A Changed Man

UPDATED 03/07/2005 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/07/2005 at 01:00 AM EST

By Francine Prose
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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In Prose's fiction, no one is safe: Her subject is human weakness, and her approach is no-holds-barred. Her new novel is the best kind of social satire: razor-sharp, funny and merciless. Vincent Nolan, 32, an ex-skinhead sporting SS tattoos, walks into the Manhattan offices of World Brotherhood Watch, a human rights foundation headed by Holocaust survivor Meyer Maslow, and declares, "I want to help you guys save guys like me from becoming guys like me." Meyer, whose commitment to changing "one heart at a time" doesn't extend to having neo-Nazis as houseguests, sends Vincent home with his chief fund-raiser, Bonnie Kalen, a single mom with two sons. Vincent quickly becomes the foundation's poster boy, "Mr. Changed Man," and the darling of self-congratulatory liberal donors. Prose skewers the publicity circus with relish but has even more fun exposing her characters' insecurities—the snark, wimp or egomaniac within. Whether Vincent has truly changed remains an open question, but Prose leaves no doubt that the fragile impulse to do good is all too easily overwhelmed by vanity.

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