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The Perfume Burned His Eyes


Emmy-winning actor Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos, The White Lotus, etc.) brilliantly evokes 1970s New York in this Holden Caulfield–esque debut

*While supplies last, books ordered through the website will include a bookplate SIGNED by Michael Imperioli!

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What people are saying…

“[T]he actor’s first novel is a quintessential New York story: A teenager moves from Queens to Manhattan, discovering a world populated with drugs, sex, a witch, and Lou Reed. It’s like a vivid walk through the city and adolescence, reveling in their grit and pathos.”
New York Times

“An edgy coming-of-age romp set in New York City.”
Parade Magazine

“Imperioli’s book follows a Queens teen named Matthew as his shattered family moves from Jackson Heights to Manhattan, where he finds an unlikely mentor in a drug-addled Lou Reed.”
New York Post

“Compelling . . . Lou Reed appears as a major character; he’s an unlikely father figure to the teenage protagonist, Matthew, who’s trying to find himself in 1976 Manhattan. The iconoclastic—and at the time, troubled—rocker inspires Matthew artistically, even as he coaxes him to walk on the wild side.”

“The Perfume Burned His Eyes is a deft debut with a poignant epilogue.”

“A coming-of-age tale dashed with relatable angst and humor.”
Entertainment Weekly online

“Even though Reed looms large throughout—the novel even takes its title from Reed’s ‘Romeo Had Juliette,’ from his 1989 solo album New York—the book is much less about him and more about Matthew’s own journey through adolescence in the seedier corners of 1970s New York.”

“[A] gritty but witty read, a love letter to a time and a place and a person (Reed) from someone (Imperioli) who came of age in the same urban cauldron of creativity and confusion.”

“[Imperioli’s] debut novel, The Perfume Burned His Eyes, not only deserves an award for best title, but has garnered praise from Joyce Carol Oates . . . This should come as no surprise . . . Bravo!”
Santa Barbara Magazine

“[Imperioli] captured the setting, the times, and the coming of age beautifully. It was a compelling read.”
The Cyberlibrarian

“Screenwriter and Emmy-winning actor Imperioli’s first novel is the atmospheric coming-of-age story of 17-year-old Matthew, whose mother moves them from Queens to a posh apartment in Manhattan in 1976 . . . Matt is not an atypical teenager—think Holden Caulfield without the cynicism—but, often afraid and awkward, he is a reactor, not an actor, until the end of the novel, which, without foreshadowing, comes as a harrowing surprise . . . Imperioli can definitely write, and he gets high marks for the verisimilitude and empathy that he evokes in this fine crossover novel.”
Booklist, STARRED Review

“Imperioli’s lived-in details about the city help make the world feel realistic . . . [The novel] is an immersive trip into its narrator’s memories of a turbulent time. Some fictional trips into 1970s New York abound with nostalgia; this novel memorably opts for grit and heartbreak.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A restless Queens teenager becomes the protégé of music legend Lou Reed in Imperioli’s energetic debut novel . . . Matthew’s first-person narrative is full of endearing vulnerability, immediacy, and authenticity. This is a sweet and nostalgic coming-of-age novel.”
Publishers Weekly

“Imperioli delivers a spot-on coming-of-age novel . . . A winner.”
Library Journal

“Yes. It’s That Guy From The Sopranos. If that’s what makes you pick it up, fine. Just do it. Matthew, a 16 year old living in Queens loses both his father and his grandfather. His mother uproots the now family of two to Manhattan. He starts an unlikely friendship with two tenants in his building: Lou Reed and his trans girlfriend Rachel. Lou becomes a quasi-shamanic father figure to the boy as he navigates his lonely path to becoming a man. Heartbreaking. Pure. If you walk away from having read this book without feeling the deepest of empathy for teenagers and your own teenage self, you’re just a stone, man. You can’t be reached.”
Fountain Bookstore, Staff Pick (Kelly)

“I found myself totally entranced by The Perfume Burned His Eyes, the coming of age story of 17-year-old Matthew, who recently moved from Queens to a Manhattan apartment, where his upstairs neighbors turn out to be…..music legend Lou Reed and his transgender partner Rachel! Lou Reed looms large in the novel, but it is mostly about Matthew’s own journey through adolescence. There is a sweetness and vulnerability to Matthew’s first-person narrative, which felt very authentic to me, filled with grit and heartbreak, confusion and angst, as Matthew navigates his strange, new world, not only of NYC, but of adulthood itself. Fresh and original; listen to some Lou Reed music, read, and enjoy (and it’s my favorite book jacket of the year!)
Unabridged Bookstore, Staff Pick (Ed Devereux)

“Imperioli makes his literary debut with The Perfume Burned His Eyes, a novel in which 16-year-old narrator Matthew becomes enmeshed with the late rock legend Lou Reed and his trans muse Rachel.”
Bay Area Reporter

“I seldom finish a book and then pick up a pen to write my name in it because I know I will lend it out often. I did that with this book of fiction about a teenage boy in the ‘70’s who has a friendship with Lou Reed. This is the kind of hidden gem booksellers like to discover”
SubText Bookstore, Sue’s Staff Pick for A Best Book of 2018

“Imperioli does a masterful job with this work, and with his influences from the acting world, it reads vividly, like a movie.”
Brooklyn Digest

“A fast-paced story with likable characters.”
Wanna Be Omnilegent

“Part nod to the fractiousness of the teenage years, part nod to a talented and complicated musician for whom the author had great admiration, The Perfume Burned His Eyes is a short but powerful read that imprints Imperioli as a master of this genre.”
Books Is Wonderful

“Vividly imagined, compelling, and sympathetic, The Perfume Burned His Eyes convinces with the force of its emotional intensity.”
Joyce Carol Oates

“It has been a long time since I have regarded the prospect of taking up a new first novel other than with dull dread and a sardonic snort of rightfully prejudicial dismissal. Then I happened on this one: the kind of bird you don’t see anymore in the kind of sky you don’t see anymore. Mr. Imperioli can write, and he has given us a book—that most outmoded of handheld devices, devoid of all apps—that brings a rare and welcome breeze of imagination and wit.”
—Nick Tosches, author of Under Tiberius

“This coming-of-age narrative is a fearless, towering inferno burning with raw truthfulness, stunning surprises, thrills, poetic writing, and an odyssey not just to be read, but reckoned with.”
—Richard Lewis, comedian, author of The Other Great Depression

“Michael Imperioli discovers a whole new demimonde in his journey from Queens to the hideaways and hell-a-ways of Manhattan. It’s a streetwise romp through an underworld of bizarre characters desperate to find their own transcendence, written with affection, wit, and telepathic understanding.”
—Lenny Kaye, musician and author

“Touching, hilarious, heartfelt, and poetic, with an ending that is crushing, bruising, beautiful…Unpredictable and sweet as well, this is a unique accomplishment.”
Lydia Lunch, author of Will Work for Drugs

The Perfume Burned His Eyes shook me up in a way a book hasn’t since my twenties. I found myself questioning the narrative I have built for myself in order to survive as an artist and a parent. It threw me back to being an awkward teenager in love, and destroyed some of the scaffolding of false memories I had built. This book allowed me to be with myself as a young, innocent teen without judgment, and opened my eyes and heart to the hurdles my teenager is now about to face. Imperioli’s book is gentle, pure, perverse, and devastating. It delves intimately into the psyche of what all great artists are made of.”
—Nick Sandow, actor (Orange Is the New Black), filmmaker


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 away from his boyhood home, “the city” is a completely new and strange world to Matthew.

Matthew soon befriends (and becomes a factotum of sorts to) Lou Reed, who lives with his transgender girlfriend Rachel in the same building. 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 his 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.

Watch interviews with Michael Imperioli on Desus and Meroat The Wrapat BUILD Series NYC, Rachael, on Profiles with Mickey Burns, on Popcorn with Peter Travers, on PBS’s One-on-One with Steve Adubatoand on New York Live.

Listen to interviews with Michael Imperioli on ESPN Radio’s Golic and Wingo, WTF? with Marc Maron, the Talk Easy Podcast, DIYMFA, KNBR Tonight, the Creative Principles Podcast, KCSB’s The Freak Power Ticket, WGN Chicago’s Steve Cochran Show, KQED’s Forumand WABC’s Bernie & Sid in the Morning.

Read interviews with Michael Imperioli at StereogumReddit (AmA), Reuters’s Life Lessons, Knicks Journal, and Parade.

Read Michael Imperioli’s Book Notes playlist at Largehearted Boy.

Listen to an interview with Michael Imperioli conducted by Lydia Lunch at the Lydian Spin:

Book Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Published: 12/6/22
  • IBSN: 9781636140698
  • e-IBSN: 9781617756429
  • Hardcover
  • IBSN: 9781617756429


Michael Imperioli is best known for his starring role as Christopher Moltisanti in the acclaimed TV series The Sopranos—which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Emmy Award—and plays a lead role on season two of HBO’s The White Lotus. He wrote five episodes of The Sopranos; was coscreenwriter of the film Summer of Sam, directed by Spike Lee; and was anthologized in The Nicotine Chronicles, edited by Lee Child. Imperioli has appeared in six of Spike Lee’s films and has also acted in films by Martin Scorsese, Abel Ferrara, Walter Hill, Peter Jackson, and the Hughes Brothers. He cohosted the rewatch podcast Talking Sopranos with his Sopranos costar Steve Schirripa, with whom he also penned the best-selling book Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of The Sopranos. Additionally, Imperioli is a singer and guitarist in the band ZOPA. Follow him on Instagram: @realmichaelimperioli.

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