The Perfume Burned His Eyes
By Michael Imperioli
Akashic Books, Brooklyn, NY, 270 pages, hardcover, $25.95
Actor Michael Imperioli is best known for his starring role as Christopher Moltisanti on the acclaimed TV series The Sopranos, for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Emmy Award.
Imperioli wrote five Sopranos episodes, and he was the co-screenwriter of the film Summer of Sam, which was directed by Spike Lee.
In his debut novel, The Perfume Burned His Eyes, Imperioli tells the story of a teenager who develops an unlikely friendship with Lou Reed in 1970s New York City.
Matthew is a sixteen-year-old boy living in Jackson Heights, Queens, in 1976. After he loses his two most important male role models, his father and grandfather, his mother uses her inheritance to uproot Matthew and herself to a posh apartment building in Manhattan.
Although only three miles from his boyhood home in Queens, “the city,” as Manhattan is known to outer borough folks, is a completely new and strange world to Matthew.
Matthew soon befriends, and also becomes a factotum of sorts to, Lou Reed, who lives with his transgender girlfriend Rachel in the same building.
Reed, the artistic-shamanic rocker eventually becomes an unorthodox father figure to Matthew, who finds himself head over heels for the mysterious Veronica, a wise-beyond-her-years girl he meets at her new school.
The novel is written from the point of view of Matthew at age eighteen, two years after the story begins, and concludes with an epilogue in the year 2013, three days after Lou Reed’s death, with Matthew in his fifties.
Imperioli said of writing The Perfume Burned His Eyes: “A few years ago one of my sons was in the midst of a rather difficult stage of teenager. In hindsight it was perhaps no more or less tumultuous than any adolescent, yet it proved to be a serious challenge to navigate for my son, my wife, and myself. In an effort to relate and understand the mind of a sixteen-year-old boy, I began to play around with some ideas for the central character of this book.
“Around the same time musician Lou Reed passed away. Lou was my hero and in the later years of his life we became friendly. His death hit me pretty hard and the emotions it brought began to infuse themselves into the story I was concocting. The end result being The Perfume Burned His Eyes; the title is a lyric borrowed from Lou.
“This story is not about my son, any more than it is about me or anybody else, nor is it meant to be taken as a real account of Lou or events in his life. Whatever it may be, for better or worse, it was written with love, tenderness, and respect both for Lou and for anyone who has found themselves at the very strange age of sixteen at one point or another in their life.”
Imperioli does a masterful job with this work, and with his influences from the acting world, it reads vividly, like a movie.