The Perfume Burned His Eyes

I just returned this book to the library and find myself still thinking about the plot.  There really wasn’t one but it was still a good read.  A classic coming-of-age tale of Matthew navigating his day to day after two of the seemingly most influential men in his life die.  He doesn’t have a good relationship with his dad and hated how he treated his mom so he dismisses him at first but still finds himself using him as an excuse.  He was closer with his grandfather but finds out things about him he never knew.  His mother is loving yet distant and just wants to be a material benefactor.  This includes moving him from Queens to Manhattan in search of a better existence which ultimately leads to his meeting two eclectic characters that shape his story.

One of those individuals was Lou Reed, an eccentric, middle aged man living in Matthew’s building whose moods are as capricious as Oklahoma’s weather.  He lives with a transvestite that he loves as fiercely as he curses and captivates Matthew’s attention and awe.  An amateur musician that waxes poetic about women with lines like “…when a problem or an issue arises, a woman wants to be heard, she wants her feeling understood.  But a man wants to fix it, he immediately wants to find a solution…but that’s not important to the woman in the midst of her emotions and feelings.  No! She simply wants to be listened to.”

The other major player in Matthew’s life is his peer Veronica.  She has a blurry backstory but what we gather is she prostitutes herself yet wins the affection and ardor of our protagonist.  “I didn’t have the courage to ring the bell which made me question if I really wanted to see her at all.  But why else would I have been standing outside her house?” She makes him constantly question himself and poses an enigmatic problem that never solves itself even until the end.

In the end, he loses them both but walks away with some perspective from the entire ordeal.

“I was getting an education in the march of human progress and it seemed that if we are to be certain of any one thing at all, it’s that most of us are lambs waiting to be slaughtered at the hands of the butchers.  A realization made far worse by the fact that the butchers are invariably idiotic, pea-brained morons whose stupidity almost manages to overshadow their cruelty.  Almost.”

Watching their struggle for a normal life and seeing them crumble under the weight causes him to shift blame to the “normalcy” most banal people seek.  These weren’t just ordinary players in a game to him.  They were set apart, dichotomous to their journey and yet they didn’t make it to the end of the treasure they set out to chase.

Bravo to Michael Imperioli for a stellar debut novel.

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