The Third Eye

David Knowles, Author Nan A. Talese $23 (224p) ISBN 978-0-385-49706-0
Knowles (The Secrets of the Camera Obscura) probes the psychological economy of voyeurism in this creepy Portrait of the Artist as a Peeping Tom set in contemporary, noirish Gotham City. A haughty, manipulative 30-year-old named Jefferson sublets his gorgeous SoHo apartment every summer, asking a truly modest rent in Manhattan's inflated housing market. The lucky tenant he selects each year is always a beautiful woman, as his sneaky plan requires, for Jefferson's family also owns the abandoned building just across the street, from which one has a perfect view of apartment #5. Jefferson is a passionate amateur photographer, a voyeur, a liar and a misogynist. Telling his tenants he is going to Guatemala to photograph jaguars, instead he spies on them all summer, documenting their lives on film. This elaborate charade becomes a conceptual art project when Jefferson conscripts art student Henry Magnin to create a series of paintings based on the clandestine photos. The current tenant, the beautiful and mysterious Maya Vanasi, has Jefferson spellbound. He is entranced by the red dot, or bindi, painted on her forehead, which she explains is a symbolic third eye, representing wisdom, or ""the window to the soul."" From the very beginning, however, Maya refuses to play Jefferson's game. She is maddeningly unavailable for his secret photo sessions, disappearing for days at a time, assuming aliases and concocting alibis. Her connection to an art gallery also threatens to expose Jefferson and Henry's dark scheme. The scenes in which an unhinged Jefferson tries to piece together the mystery of Maya's apparently supernatural intuition are taut, complex and chilling. While Jefferson's smug commentary on the art world grows tiresome, this art-snob aspect of the protagonist grows out of his basically unlikable, fatuous personality, and there is a perverse satisfaction in watching such an operator disintegrate in the cogs of his own machine. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
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