Coming Out Fighting

New York Times perfume critic Chandler Burr's debut novel is a poignant, semiautobiographical treatise on Hollywood and the hypocrisies of Judaism.



Chandler Burr is pissed off. And if you give him a minute -- or three hours -- of your time, he'll explain why in a manner so erudite, so insistent, and so maddeningly scattered that the force of his words will leave you feeling like you've been hit in the face by a very heavy two-by-four. Words mean something to Burr -- labels, identity, and literature are obsessions for the 45-year-old New Yorker. But his first novel, You or Someone Like You , as Burr will tell you, is more than just a sensuously written piece of fiction. It's catharsis on paper, the last word (for now) on an incident that happened to the author when he was 23, a life-changing moment that upended everything he thought he knew about himself.

"Part of the reason that I write is that I'm really angry at people who say unbelievably stupid shit," Burr says. He's seated in the mezzanine of the New York Times cafeteria, his voice effortlessly rising above the corporate clip-clop of high heels that threatens to break his concentration. While the Times is housed in this midtown skyscraper, the majority of his work as the Times ' official scent critic is done from his home in Murray Hill. (Two of his previous books centered on the perfume industry: 2003's The Emperor of Scent and 2007's The Perfect Scent , which partially follows the creation of Sarah Jessica Parker's first fragrance, and wherein we learn that the erstwhile Carrie Bradshaw likes body odor.) Burr doesn't want to talk much about his job, a strange-sounding position that drew snorts of derision when it was created in 2006. And when he starts to explain the enormity of the encounter that prompted him to write You or Someone Like You , a discussion of base notes and aroma compounds seems utterly irrelevant anyway.

Tags: Books