Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Eyes" by Felice Picano

Stu Waehner is a social caseworker, in a deteriorating relationship with girlfriend Jennifer. He is also the object of obsession for Johanna Poole, who lives in an apartment building opposite him. She can see into his apartment, but he can't see into hers. She keeps a detailed, extensive journal on him, noting every step in their progressing "relationship". She starts to call him, but refuses to meet in person. At first, Stu is unsure about the calls, but is soon drawn to the woman he knows as Joan. In fact, he comes to rely on Joan's presence in his life, even after he begins a relationship with Johanna herself, unaware they are one and the same.

The front cover of the book proclaims this as "The Shattering Novel of Love and Terror". I wouldn't go that far, but it certainly is an intriguing and compelling little character study. Originally published in 1975, this one holds up extremely well, and could conceivably occur in any time period. Picano gets deep inside his characters' heads, so that we know their every weakness, insecurity and character flaw. Johanna obviously has more than a few screws loose, but she is not portrayed as some over-the-top loony. She is a pretty, intelligent woman....who just happens to be a voyeur with a demented, idealised view of true love. Her reasons for keeping a journal about Stu are completely rational - to her. This sort of strong character development helps to make proceedings remain believable when a romance does actually develop between Stu and Johanna.

It made for quite fascinating reading as Stu refused to let go of his phone relationship with Joan, despite having the real thing with Johanna. Likewise, Johanna just couldn't let go of her alter ego despite landing the man she had been longing for. Their mutual self-destructiveness leads to risky, poorly thought-out character actions that can only end badly.

Although the book cover and blurb try to sell this as a suspense thriller, I wouldn't really categorise it as such. It is a little too leisurely paced to ratchet up the tension you would expect from the genre, and there are no real twists to the plot. However, it is certainly never dull, as the complex relationship between Stu and Johanna/Joan is explored so deeply. "Eyes" was a change of pace from what I normally read, and a welcome one.

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