Further refining his distinctive approach to seductive storytelling, Knowles (the novella The Secrets of the Camera Obscura, 1994) digs deep into the head of a Peeping Tom, who finds his peeping perturbed and reason rattled by a woman who seems to know him better than he knows himself. This is no ordinary Tom, however'no, this is a Manhattan-variety voyeur who calls himself Jefferson, a real-estate scion with enough money to buy a building in Soho just to board up the windows facing the prize apartment he sublets cheaply to beautiful young women for a few months. In one of the boarded-up windows is a hole, behind which is a camera, behind which is our man. Taking pictures of his tenants in various states is how Jefferson treats his agoraphobia, a case so severe he can't hang out in Central Park, let alone leave the city. But his photographs are too good to keep to himself, so he lets his friend Henry, a struggling artist fresh from Indiana, have a peek. Henry is hooked, and with ample encouragement begins to paint versions of the photos. This cozy arrangement unravels, though, when Jefferson's latest ad brings him Maya, a woman from India, complete with a red dot on her forehead, who is so captivating he forgets all the rules of his game. She gets the apartment, but promptly disappears, leaving Jefferson increasingly frustrated, then worried when he learns Henry is having a show of his photo-paintings at a gallery whose owner Maya knows. As Jefferson frets, he completely loses his grip, although after his meltdown his agoraphobia is gone. Diverse stages of mental distress, described from within this unsavory character, are handled with artful reserve, but the existential mystery of Maya remains just that, with the explanations about her sounding, to echo Henry's words, like "a big pile of psychic crap."
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