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.