A mopey 20-something of Polish-American origins agrees to take part in his eccentric uncle’s latest performance-art project.
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.” Scapellato (Big Lonesome, 2017) follows up his short story collection with a debut novel about that particular male archetype navel-gazing through his past during a visit to Prague. There’s not much to first-person narrator Stanley, an archaeology-school dropout and historically bad boyfriend prone to saying glum things like “That was when a window in me broke,” and “The space at the center of myself that wasn’t me had expanded.” The only interesting thing about Stanley is the strange set of circumstances he finds himself in. He’s been offered a paying gig by his oddball Uncle Lech: travel to Prague, sit in an apartment for three days, and facilitate a new tenant’s move-in. It sounds simple enough, but Stanley is aware that his wealthy and unethical uncle is prone to staging elaborate events that “hit the intersection of performance art, conceptual art, and the plastic arts.” What might have developed into an elaborate head game doesn’t add up to much—a couple of noir-tinged encounters with camouflaged figures meant to evoke Stanley’s feelings about others and the delivery of envelopes marked “Evidence: Complete Explanation of the Made-Up Man.” Stanley fills the rest of his journey sulking about his ex-girlfriend T, who’s in town to attend a festival, bombing drunkenly around Prague with T’s glib friend Manny, who’s staying with Stanley, and remembering mundane encounters with his girlfriends, brother, and family. By the end, readers will likely agree with Stanley’s mother: “ 'You’re in your twenties,’ she said, meaning, You’re a dupa jasiu.” That dismissal is a Polish colloquialism that translates roughly to “ass.”
An aimless story about an aimless young man.