A CHANGED MAN

Francine Prose, Author . HarperCollins $24.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-019674-5

A starred review indicates a book of outstanding quality. A review with a blue-tinted title indicates a book of unusual commercial interest that hasn't received a starred review.

A CHANGED MAN Francine Prose . HarperCollins , $24.95 (416p) ISBN 0-06-019674-2

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. Agent, Denise Shannon. (Mar. 3)

Forecast: A Changed Man is less didactic than Blue Angel and is set on a broader stage, which should broaden its appeal, too. Six-city author tour.