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Kathryn Watson
Kathryn Watson is a NY-based freelance writer whose work explores art, books, tech, and the eroding distinction between "high" and "low" culture. Her work has been published by Hyperallergic, PASTE, Brit + Co., and others. Find her on Twitter at @whatkathrynsaid.

Joe Scapellato on “The Made-Up Man” and the Myth of the Self

A skull painted gold stands out from amongst the 20,000 skeletons stored in an ossuary. Michael Probst / AP

Kathryn Watson | Longreads | February 2019 | 9 minutes (2,326 words)


Joseph Scapellato’s new book The Made-Up Man is a darkly comic, noir-styled novel powered by an energy that’s equal parts mischief, good humor, and measured cynicism. Based on conventions lifted out of the old detective story playbook, the novel is told from the perspective of a slippery narrator, whose sense of identity expands, collapses, and shatters against a series of nagging moral questions that are less situational than they are existential. The result is an intoxicating alchemy, something genre-blurring and philosophically riveting.

The Made-Up Man’s main character and pseudo-protagonist, Stanley, slips into a waking nightmare when he agrees to an apartment-sitting opportunity in Prague. Stanley knows in advance that, if he goes to Prague, he’ll become a pawn in a twisted compression of psychological torment and performance art that his Uncle Lech has waiting for him across the ocean. Lech is a man openly fascinated with figuring out how to exploit whoever he can, for the sake of his “art.” But Stanley opts to take the plane ticket Lech offers and go on the journey anyway, wherever it might lead. While he aims to outsmart his uncle’s plans, Stanley ends up unraveling something much more discomfiting: his definition of himself. There’s “a space at the center of myself that wasn’t me,” Stanley realizes early in his narration, and what lies inside of that space turns out to be a bloodthirst and anger that is both mysterious and intoxicating to him. Read more…