Friday, April 14, 2006

book 18: A Changed Man by Francine Prose

With all that hoo ha about the watershed, I forgot to write about A Changed Man. Too bad for you guys, because the insights I had and the pretty words I strung together in my mind have all but drifted away. Lesson: procrastination is not good for reviews.

A Changed Man
was excellent. I found it at a library sale for a dollar, in hardback, and read it in fits and starts until I finally got the time to just sink into the story. The plot follows youn(ish) Vince, a broke-ass neo-Nazi who had a revelation about the world while rolling (that's taking ecstacy for all you lucky people who did not grow up with peers who thought going to raves was where it's at). He steals his trashy cousin's pickup, a thousand dollars and a bag of abusable prescriptions and drives to NYC. When he appears in the office of Meyer Maslow, a Holocaust survior who runs a non-profit that tries to better the world, his arrvial is taken as a miracle-- one that could bolster the rep and gala ticket sales of the venerable, but struggling org. A divorced woman and her two young sons get thrown into the mess too, and the way their lives change is not dramatic, but very important.

What Prose excells in in this novel is excavating the desires, motivations and pasts of four very different characters in the thrall of a pretty fine-tuned plot. What she also does is show us what they are thinking as they are thinking it, a technique almost impossible to make interesting and fluid, and she does it amazingly well. The character's voices are very strong and very true, so much so that I felt transported as each chapter switched POV.

Prose also manages to comment on New York, the Holocaust as an industry and survivor's guilt in a way that seems fresh and thoughtful at the same time. She has an amazing grasp of what drives divorce, greed and complacency. She writes in the voice of a 15 year old boy as well as she does a 40-something woman. Her take on non-profit work is extremely nuanced and will be interesting to anyone who has every worked for or with an institution with "vision."

Oh, and it's funny too.

Read it now.

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