Joseph Scapellato's The Made-Up Man reminds me of a bacon-topped doughnut — a mixture of incongruent elements that somehow work well together. And like that sweet treat, Scapellato's blend of existential noir, absurdist humor, literary fiction, and surreal exploration of performance art merges into something special ... The Made-Up Man is a rare novel that is simultaneously smart and entertaining. It looks at the ways we perform ourselves, through the experiences of a man floating in a haze after the academic career and the relationship that grounded him and gave him a sense of self are no longer there ... This is a strange book, but just like with food, trying new things can lead to pleasant surprises.
[Some of Scapellato's stylistic] decisions might come across as quirky if one is feeling generous, pretentious if one is not, and overall, the book’s appeal will be determined by how a reader regards techniques that can feel like stunts. Luckily for any reader, the book keeps its pages turning with absurdist comedy, committed throughout to the idea espoused by Stanley’s late grandmother that whatever else he may be, 'Man is a beast that laughs.'
In rendering his most avant-garde characters as members of a kind of self-help conspiracy, Scapellato offers not an update but a revision of absurdism, and as such, many social phenomena ripe for satire get off easy. There are so many circles-within-circles that would bind Stan in a Kafka-esque way -- graduate school, Chicago gentrification, artsy tourism to Prague -- none of which are as important as his quintessentially American struggle to be himself ... While we get the sense that Stanley is a pretty taciturn guy, his 'noir' narration strains credibility at times ... a well-plotted and frequently funny novel. But by the end, you might wish that Scapellato had given freer rein to the quirkier elements of his narrative. The demented Dada energy gets wrangled up and fitted into the plot, and the result is a novel that, like its protagonist, is keeping it all together of the sake of keeping it together, when what it wants to do is run amok.
Scapellato provides richly detailed accounts of Lech’s projects ... Scapellato’s minimalist prose unspools in a hypnotic staccato that carries an impressive freight of mood and information ... Scapellato can also strike a refreshingly earnest, romantic tone, as he does when Stanley recalls his time with T ... Early in the novel, Stanley’s identity is ever so proximate: T, and love, are the keys he fumbles in trying to unlock it. The Made-Up Man fumbles its identity in a similar way, by looking too far outside what feels like its true self. A bittersweet novel about a beer-swigging, volatile, heartsick late-twentysomething in limbo among workaday, academic, and bohemian worlds — would that be too cliché? Too pedestrian? Too similar to a hundred other lad-lit novels? Not in hands as capable and original as Scapellato’s. Not with his feel for the tense moment and the quirky detail. It needed no postmodern razzmatazz.
Much of what we come across in The Made-Up Man... by Joseph Scapellato isn’t new territory ... That said, there is a certain charm embedded within The Made-Up Man; many of Scapellato’s characters... are well-drawn and give credence to the realism buried deep within this psychological novel. And for fans of noir, the author has certainly created a moody and dark atmosphere, complete with dimly lit streets of cobblestone and rundown apartment buildings crawling with suspicious characters that keep us guessing ... The Made-Up Man is something of an enigma: not exactly noir, not exactly psychological thriller, and not exactly a bildungsroman about a budding sociopath. But you can certainly find all of these aspects within—and more. In the end, the novel’s stronger aspects outmatch its more clichéd, especially when viewed on the whole. Not everyone is going to enjoy this book, but for those who do, it will not be easily forgotten.
The descriptions of Eastern Europe echo Keith Gessen’s Another Country, and Stanley’s conflicted masculinity as well as the repeated trick of one-sentence chapters bring to mind Ron Currie’s Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles ... Merging the ludicrous and the melancholic, the odd premise provides many laugh-out-loud moments and some curious insights and enables Stanley to explore and understand why he performs the same role each and every day.
Here we have a story so common and oft-told it might as well have been pried out of Joseph Campbell’s mitts and summarized down through the ages as 'disaffected dude experiences existential angst' ... There’s not much to first-person narrator Stanley ... An aimless story about an aimless young man.