A Changed Man, by Francine Prose, is a well-written novel with seemingly opposing characters.
From a self-claimed Neo-Nazi to a Jewish Holocaust survivor, the male characters do not seem to dramatically change, in my opinion, although they do reach a form of acceptance with each other.
On one hand, we have Vincent Nolan (a Timothy McVeigh look-alike), who professes to be using the “World Brotherhood Watch” organization to help “save guys from becoming guys like me”. He literally uses the premise of the organization to help him survive…they feed him, clothe him, etc. He is in need of a place to live, has no funds to find a place, and decides on a plan, whereby he convinces Maslow that he is trying to do good. He in turn gives Meyer Maslow (the founder and head of the organization, and a Holocaust survivor) the boost that is needed to help promote the organization, and to promote his latest book (which is not selling well). Nolan becomes the poster boy for Maslow’s foundation.
Maslow convinces Maslow’s assistant, Bonnie, to take Nolan in and give him a roof over his head. Bonnie has two children, and her family is rather dysfunctional. Maslow, himself, contorts the fact that he convinced Bonnie to take Nolan in, by stating to himself (over and over again), and to others, that Bonnie volunteered to take him in.
Maslow uses the organization to help those in need, but he also uses any opportunity to promote his own image…that of being a man of honor, trust and a man who is trying to save the world, a person at a time. He even questions his own motives for doing what he does, wondering if it is for the right reason. At one point he claims that material things do not matter to him, because he has experienced the worst of life without them, yet he is married, lives in a mansion, and dresses in Aramani suits (proudly). Nothing but the best for him. Often those who have done without, and have lived on the edge of death exhibit this form of behavior.
For me, A Changed Man could have exhibited characters with a bit more depth, but then again, emotional and traumatic pain is often camouflaged by what appears to be a cold and rigid exterior. Survival of the fittest tactics are often subconsciously used, while inside the person is going through their own turmoil, their own emotional and hellacious Holocaust. I think that is what Francine Prose was aiming for. If so, she did an excellent job, and A Changed Man is a must read book, in my opinion.
This was my second reading of the book, reading it again for a book club. I initially read it about six years ago.
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