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DO THE RIGHT THING

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A Changed Man
By Francine Prose

(HarperCollins, 416 pages)

Inspired by a hit of Ecstasy, a 32-year-old white supremacist walks into the offices of the World Brotherhood Watch foundation and declares himself an ex-pièce de Aryan résistance. Vincent Nolan, the eponymous "changed man" of Francine Prose's new novel, could go about his life change in any number of ways, but America being what it is, he opts to turn his apostasy into a career move.

Brotherhood Watch is only too happy to help, and their relationship quickly becomes one of mutual exploitation. The human rights organization is the pet project of Mayer Maslow, a holocaust survivor and humanitarian activist as dedicated to helping the oppressed as he is to advancing his book sales. He eagerly pimps out the turned Nazi as a fund-raising tool and media hors d'oeuvre while Vincent receives a modest stipend with room and board.

Maslow's lieutenant, Bonnie Kalen, is the proverbial woman behind the great man. Part fund-raiser, part Gal Friday, she's a freshly dumped divorcee with two kids in the 'burbs and an ego the size of a thimble. When she's elected to house Vincent, the stage is set for more than a little sexual-familial tension.

Prose (Blue Angel) has written a novel with an identity crisis: It stops short of flat-out satire, but is not simply a midlife crisis romance. It ribs feel-good multiculturalism and the inherent contradictions of "social change" as a profession. It brings us inside the heads of its characters, who belabor every moment with self-doubt until the reader feels equally beleaguered. A Changed Man tries hard, and it has its finger on the pulse of something prevalent in the culture right now; namely, how everyone is aware of the way their lives might fit into a media narrative. Though Prose's creations are involved in a career-furthering scam, they're supported by loftier desires to change for the better, be it in a personal or global context. Such dissonance makes for an interesting, if occasionally exhausting, read.

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