Cover image for The third eye
The third eye
Knowles, David, 1966-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Nan A. Talese, 2000.
Physical Description:
213 pages ; 22 cm
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Prime Location. Soho Sublet March 1 to June 1. Pristine 1 BR. Hrdwd flrs. Air-con, $400/mo. Call Jefferson (212) 496-3715 "I've seen things here, Henry. Real things. A real side of this woman's life...Call it spying if you like, but this experiment might be the only way to get at that life." Every summer, Jefferson, the narrator ofThe Third Eye, sublets a pristine Manhattan apartment to a new beautiful young woman. He spends the next two months hidden behind the boarded-up windows of the building across the street, photographing his tenant as she goes about her life. Jefferson has compiled albums full of photographs from the four previous summers, which he shares only with Henry, a young painter whom Jefferson "discovered" and now "nurtures." Henry works from the photos, but so far has been allowed to show his art only to his patron, because no one, especially the subjects of the paintings, must ever suspect that the project exists. Such awareness would defeat its central purpose, to wipe away the boundary between art and everyday life. Jefferson expects this summer's tenant to be the most sublime subject yet. Maya Vanasi is a self-assured Indian woman who wears a red dot on her forehead--a bindi, the "third eye"--and who seems to exude a mystical power, a mysterious strength that Jefferson can't resist. But almost immediately after moving into the apartment, Maya disappears, and Jefferson discovers that his new tenant is as enigmatic as the third eye itself. Desperate for an explanation, Jefferson sets out to research the bindi and the perplexing clues Maya has dropped about her identity and possible whereabouts, which lead him on a frantic exploration of Indian mysticism and into the throes of a spiraling obsession that threatens to spin his elaborate project dangerously out of control. Suspenseful and sparely elegant, coolly eerie and atmospheric,The Third Eyeis New York noir at its provocative and intelligent best, enlisting the city as its manic, ambitious, threatening self to drive the book through its exquisitely unfolded, unpredictable plot into a brilliant confrontation with the rules of morality, perception, faith, art, and reason. It is a masterful performance that proves David Knowles to be one of the most interesting and accomplished young writers at work today. He expects his new tenant to be the most sublime "model" yet. Not only is she beautiful and self-assured, but she wears a red dot on her forehead (the "third eye" of the title), which indicates to Jefferson that she is deeply mystical, and he is fascinated. But she inexplicably eludes the camera, and he becomes obsessed. THE THIRD EYE is a suspenseful and atmospheric New York noir, and Knowles is brilliant at exquisitely unfolding the narrator's plan in spare, elegant prose. But more than that, this debut novel is an insightful exploration of art and perception--and an opening salvo in what promises to be an extraordinary literary career. -->

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Perhaps the vicarious pleasure gleaned from reading Knowles' riveting debut novel indicates that we are all a little voyeuristic at heart. Jefferson, who watches beautiful women through a camera lens, is such an eminently proper chap that when he describes his spying as "art," one is tempted to believe him. Every summer he sublets his Manhattan apartment to a beautiful young woman. Pretending to leave the country, he secretly moves to an apartment across the street, from where he can watch the woman going about her daily life. When a striking Indian woman named Maya applies to sublet the apartment, Jefferson is soon caught up in a reverie brought on by the red dot, or "third eye," on her forehead. After she moves in, however, he can't find her. Is she on to him? Plagued with self-doubt, Jefferson becomes obsessed with Hindu culture and Maya herself. A highly original, well-written, and fascinating novel. --Jenny McLarin

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Countless times in my life on this apartment-starved island, I have observed the Tuesday night queue as it forms in front of the Astor Place newsstand. Young people for the most part, nervously shifting their weight from side to side while they wait for the chance to scour the Village Voice newspaper classifieds. Intermittent tremors from passing subway trains tickle the bottoms of their tired feet. Curious pedestrians and taxi drivers slow down to see what they might be missing. Those on line are a desperate lot, too poor or full of pride to pay a Realtor to do the work for them, and astute enough to have figured out which kiosk first receives the weekly rental listings. I think it's safe to say that Manhattan is the single toughest place to find affordable housing in the world, with Tokyo, or perhaps Paris, as a close second. In those crucial minutes when delivery trucks fan out across the city, these go-getters are already at work with their red pens, crossing out and circling prospective apartments. Not willing to waste the time it takes to walk home, they head straight for the nearest pay phone and encamp themselves. No precaution is too great in their search. Like so many others on the rainy night of June 23, 1993, Maya Vanasi answered my own ad in the Voice the very same evening it ran. To most readers, the words must have seemed like an apparition. It was easily the best deal of the section. Prime location, SoHo Sublet. July 1 to Sept. 1. Pristine 1 BR Hrdwd flrs. Air-con, $400/mo. Call Jefferson @ (212) 496-3715 The phone rang continuously, from six o'clock until half past one in the morning. I sat at the kitchen table with my notepad, an assortment of just-delivered sushi, and a bottle of Riesling, listening to Chopin's waltzes at a volume loud enough for many of the callers to ask if someone was in fact playing the piano. Upon identifying the voice on the other end of the line as female, I gave out the address and a time for an interview. To the men I replied, "Regrettably, the apartment has been rented." As I pen these words, I am trying to recall if there was anything in Maya's voice that told me she would be the lucky winner, but to say so would be a lie. I do remember having to ask her to repeat the spelling of both her first and last names, and, too, that she spoke with the slightest lilt of an Indian/British accent. No, by the time I spoke to Maya I had already placed my bet on another woman, who sounded as if I'd granted her an unimaginable kindness in even scheduling an interview. Wednesday morning I didn't bother with the phone, for the casual apartment hunter is not worth my time, but left the message machine on just in case. By ten-thirty the tape was filled with callers who must have known that they were far too late. I had two hours before the day's appointments would start arriving, so I went out and took breakfast at a nearby cafe. Continental fare: croissants, a cappuccino, two glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice, and a large bottle of Evian. Fluids are essential on days that I interview, as I have to talk so much. Back at the apartment I set out all the items I needed on the kitchen table. Yellow legal notepad with the list of names and times of each appointee, a stack of twenty-five blank applications, Polaroid camera, three new packages of film, and a bowl filled high with foil-wrapped chocolates. 12:15. I gave a last look around and was once again pleased to see what a fine job the cleaning service had done. Most applicants arrive early, so I wasn't surprised to hear the bell ring fifteen minutes in advance of the first appointment. I checked the list. "You must be Eva," I said into the intercom. "I hope I'm not too early," she replied. "Actually, could you give me just five minutes. I'm still tidying up." "Sure . . . Five minutes?" "Have a walk around the block and I'll be all set." "Okay. Sorry." "No problem at all." I darted over to the window and peered down at the street, making sure she wouldn't spot me. She stood looking up at the building, shielding her eyes from the sun with a large manila envelope. A stack of references, I guessed. She couldn't see me through the glare, and checked her watch before ambling along southward. Even from the fifth-story window I could tell she must be very pretty. Shoulder-length dark hair, trim figure, wearing a short black spaghetti-strap dress of the kind that was so popular that summer. Exactly five minutes later, the bell sounded again and this time I buzzed her in, saying, "Fifth floor, the door's to the right at the end of the hallway." I unlocked the dead bolt and stood in the open sliver of the doorway listening to her footsteps as she climbed the stairs. They were quick and energetic for the first three flights, then slowed on the last two--a normal pattern. I attribute it not only to the strain of climbing the five-story walk-up, but also to the desire of the applicant to appear composed when she meets me. And composed Eva was as she rounded the banister into view, with a freshly applied coat of shiny scarlet lipstick and her hair combed just so. Not just pretty, I thought. Model pretty. I opened the door wider and stepped across the threshold into the hall. "Jefferson?" she asked. I replied with a nod. "I'm Eva Wilson." She walked toward me, her hand outstretched. "How do you do, Eva." I took her soft, thin hand and gave it just the slightest squeeze. Right away I pegged her for an aspiring actress, and I do stress aspiring. She fluttered her eyelashes and even concocted a knowing glance as if to suggest an attraction between us. After thirty years on this planet, I have learned enough to know that a young woman of her physical caliber is not swayed by the likes of mine upon first glance. Bluntly put, I'm not a handsome man. Ever since puberty I've known as much. It's the shape of my face. My father's large forehead, my mother's tiny nose and ears. The combination just doesn't come together in an aesthetically pleasing way. Throughout my painful adolescence, whenever I entered a classroom, girls would burst into giggling fits. By the time I entered college, their mockery had faded into something even more vicious, silent indifference. I haven't fared much better as an adult. Beautiful women never let their eyes rest upon my face for too long. A momentary assessing glance, and they continue on their way. Don't think me self-pitying, I simply know my odds and am not easily seduced by actors, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy Eva's little performance. I had to laugh at the way she caught her breath when she got her first look at the foyer and living room beyond. Her gasp! I still hear it, the kind scripted into Broadway musicals. In the far reaches of the balconies of the St. James or Miller Theater they'd have heard this gasp. You see, some less scrupulous landlords might have advertised my apartment as a two-bedroom, counting the eight-by-eleven entrance hall as a legitimate space for sleeping. But what kind of living is that? To open one's door directly onto unmade sheets? "I love it," she said, though she hadn't yet seen the bedroom, bath, or kitchen. "I love it. I'll take it." "Slow down. First let me give you the complete tour and then we'll talk." "I'm just saying I know I want it. I already know. You wouldn't believe the dumps I've been in today. This place is beautiful. I love it. The rugs, the wood floors, the details." No, she wasn't acting these lines, and it caused me a pang of sympathy for what these young people go through. "Thank you very much." We walked into the living room, her smile contagious. She flitted about the place, from the windows, to the fireplace, the bookshelves, and back around again. Next I showed her to the bedroom. "The windows are so beautiful. What kind of wood is this?" I suppose she wanted to sound discerning. "Oak. The original, from 1885." "It's in such good condition. Really incredible. I love how you've kept them uncovered. Does the place get direct sun?" "Not direct unfortunately. But in the early morning the light reflects off the abandoned building across the street, and that's enough for the plants to live on." I pointed out the large dracaena and mother-in-law's tongue. "They'll be your only real duty. I'm very fond of them, so you'll have to promise to take good care of them." "I love plants. How much water do they take?" She went to the window and considered the boarded-up face of the building that I had referred to. "I'll leave you instructions. The kitchen's next if you're ready." "I'm ready." By this time delirium had taken hold of her, and she strolled through the foyer like a first-time tourist of Venice or Prague. She had heard that apartments of this caliber existed in Manhattan, but until then had never been inside one, much less had the opportunity to inhabit one. In her eyes I could see her repressed middle-class dreams emerging as if from a long hibernation. Not since her parents' house in Connecticut or Vermont or wherever had she been able to live in such comfort, but here, if only for two short months, she would reclaim her rightful place as a member of a higher caste. "Have a seat." I pulled the chair for her and she made a hum intoning her delight. "Such a gentleman." "There are, of course, a few questions that I ask all the applicants." "Of course." I took my own chair across the table from her. "Please, help yourself to a chocolate," I said. "No thanks." Why is it, I often wonder, that we Americans are taught that it's more polite to refuse than accept a simple gesture of hospitality? No, I wasn't going to let her get out of it so easily. "Really, I insist. They're absolutely delicious." I held the bowl out for her, so she really didn't have a choice. "Okay. Thank you." She took one, but hesitated before unwrapping it. "Go on, enjoy it!" Seeing no way out, she removed the cherry liqueur-filled ball of chocolate from the foil and plopped the whole thing in her mouth. This I silently applauded, as some past applicants have chosen to bite it in half and cradle the uneaten portion in their palms like the broken shell of an egg dripping yolk and white. Placing the whole chocolate in one's mouth is no small feat either, and I relished the expression on her face in the minute or so I gave her to chew before I asked my first question. As it turned out, Eva did not get the apartment. A pity that someone so utterly qualified in other categories--looks, enthusiasm--should be disqualified for such a minor infraction. Her disqualifying mark? A German shepherd she was not willing to part with. Some rules I cannot bend. Dogs, especially big, loud, attack-style dogs who tear up furniture and scratch wood floors, do not fit with my scenario, period, no exceptions. The look on her face when I told her not to bother with the application! Winded, crushed, defeated. Knowing she'd never do as well as this place, perhaps she thought about giving up her dream of moving to New York right then and there. She pictured herself heading off back to the suburbs, settling for her old room at Mother and Dad's--the shelves filled with stuffed animals and soccer trophies. On the other hand, if you can't get rid of a dog to live in the apartment of your dreams, then maybe you don't have what it takes to live in this city. "There's no way?" she pleaded. "I mean, he's a well-behaved dog. He doesn't bark--" "I'm sorry. It's really a shame." "So that's it?" She looked at the floor and gently ground the soul of her left pump into the terra-cotta tile. "There's really no way . . ." She was searching for alternatives that didn't exist. The interview had run its course, but I couldn't quite accept the fact that I'd probably never see her again. I picked up the Polaroid camera. "Let me take your picture so I'll remember your face. If you change your mind or find the dog a new home, you can give me a call." "You want to take my picture?" "Terrible with names, and I have to interview over twenty people today. Never forget a face though." Her spirits sank further still at the realization that her chances had all but evaporated. I lifted the camera to my eye and she did her best to reconstruct an approximation of her smile. "One . . . two . . . three." Out popped the day's first portrait. Just then the buzzer rang. "You see?" I told her. "Here come the hordes." She picked up her purse and papers and tried to think of something else to say but was too discouraged. I followed her to the door. Yes, it was indeed a pity all around. "Thank you anyway," she managed as she shook my hand. Then, miraculously, her spirits lifted. It was as if she'd been staring at an impenetrable Scrabble board and suddenly found a way to construct a one-hundred-point word. She nearly squeezed the blood out of my hand. "Actually, you know what?" I raised an eyebrow. "No, what?" "I just remembered that my uncle said he'd take care of the dog if I needed him to." "Your uncle?" "He lives in New Jersey." "Really?" "I mean it's only for two months, right? I guess I wasn't thinking in those terms, but there's no reason why I couldn't just leave the dog with him and pick him up at the end of the summer. It's not far if I wanted to visit." I did my best to play along, but I realized that regardless of her promises, if I let her have the place, she'd be sure to try and smuggle in the pooch. "Why don't you call him tonight and let me know what he says." "Oh, he already said he would. It's not a problem. Really it's not." The buzzer sounded again, this time for an unpleasantly long duration. "Call me tonight," I said with no intention of talking to her again. "At seven." "At seven. I'll call at seven," she repeated in a breathy voice that clung to the tattered remnants of an opportunity gone awry. She brandished a flirtatious smile in a last-ditch attempt and only reluctantly let go of my hand before turning away. The buzzer yelled out for a third, ugly time just as I shut the door behind her. Before I answered the intercom, I retrieved my yellow pad and Eva's nearly developed Polaroid from the table. Yes, the picture at least was turning out to be a terrific success. "Susan?" I called into the intercom. "No," a loud and shrill voice replied, "Kendra." "Kendra? Your appointment isn't for twenty minutes yet." "What time is it? My watch says I'm only ten minutes early." "I'll tell you what, wait five minutes, and if the next girl hasn't arrived, you can come up." I heard her laughing through her nose. "Girl?" she said under her breath, not realizing the sensitivity of the intercom microphone. "Can't I just see the place now?" "I'm sorry." Already I had heard enough to know that Kendra's chances were slim at best. Excerpted from The Third Eye: A Novel by David Knowles All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.