Perfume Burned His Eyes, The, By Michael Imperioli, 259 pgs.

Nov 15, 2022

I never thought I’d write a book review in Razorcake for Sopranos’ actor Michael Imperioli. Then again, I never thought Imperioli would write a novel about Lou Reed and one of my favorite periods of history: 1970s New York City. There’s something about the grit and the dirty nature of the city during that decade that seems synonymous with the advent of punk. Imperioli, however, has a fictional take on a brief time in 1977 with one of the major influences on the genre: Lou Reed.

The book’s main character, however, is sixteen-year-old Matthew, who moves from Queens to Manhattan with his mother. He starts delivering food for a diner and quickly realizes one of the strange characters who hangs out there is a man who also happens to live in his building. That man, of course, is Lou Reed. Matthew’s life in Manhattan also coincides with developing a relationship with a girl, Veronica, at his snooty private school.

In The Perfume Burned His Eyes, (first published in 2018; this is the paperback release that came out in 2022) Reed is past his Velvet Underground days and is living with his muse, Rachel Humphreys, while also getting high, being shifty, and is incredibly absent-minded. It’s the life of someone who is occasionally a genius, but often insufferable. One of the only people who can tolerate Reed’s behavior is Matthew. Even though he isn’t familiar with Reed, Matthew’s lack of a father figure in his life leads him to latch on to the unstable artist. Reed exposes Matthew to all sorts of new experiences—including drinking, drugs, off-Broadways plays, and theft.

It’s the storyline with Veronica where things take a darker turn. Matthew is intoxicated by her and is willing to do just about anything for his classmate. It’d be unfair to give away this portion of the plot, but it involves further drinking, drugs, prostitution, and much more. Amazingly, it’s this part of The Perfume Burned His Eyes that goes the darker, grittier route; not the part with a drug-addicted Lou Reed. (I was as surprised as you are.)

This is Imperioli’s first work of fiction and it’s certainly a page turner. The chapters are short and the writing engaging. There’s some dark shit here too: sick perversions of the flesh, suicide, underage sex. It’s not easy reading all the time but thankfully there’s an epilogue that shows Matthew comes out the other side and how much of a positive influence Lou Reed ended up being on him. The Perfume Burned His Eyes is entertaining and sometimes gloomy; if you have a taste for both of those aspects in your fiction writing, this will be quite satisfying. –Kurt Morris (Akashic, 232 Third St., Suite A115, Brooklyn, NY 11215)

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