Gay Talese’s best work helped to create the idea/l of “The New Journalism”; his memorable essay on Frank Sinatra for starters; his foray into being the method-actor-of-writing with the scandalous and heart-racing Thy Neighbor’s Wife; Honor Thy Father too…
But here, bereft of ideas it would seem he serves up this ugly mess of a book – after colluding with the subject and waiting out the statute of limitations. Well, that’s how it seems.
The Voyeur’s Motel came about because an anonymous figure contacted Talese in the early 80s, when sales of Thy Neighbor’s Wife were, ahem, through the roof. The anonymous chap was also through the roof – spying on people in a motel he owned, hiding in the rafters, peeping through peep-holes, writing down prosaic diary entries and justifying his filthy perversion by declaring himself a sexual researcher and social scientist.
Across several decades, so the story goes, the man – later identified in the book as Gerald Foos – would spy on almost anyone and everyone. He would observe the boredom of people’s private lives. And he would wait – recording the amount of sex they had, the type of sex, or the lack of sex. He would play with himself, sometimes his wife would watch with him and they’d fornicate. And yet, still, he would maintain this was all in the name of research. This had been going on since the late 1960s. Across the 1980s and 1990s he sends Talese pages of a loose manuscript; Talese reads them, re-types them, asks repeatedly for Foos to be on record and plans a publication. He wonders aloud why Foos would even contact him – maybe it was the book that helped make Talese’s name, the one where he cheats on his wife, enters into the swinging lifestyle, manages massage clubs and generally gets filthy on it; yeah, that’ll probably be it…
But Talese still has to wonder.
God knows why.
Part of his wondering, no doubt, is a justification that he isn’t the bad guy. His continual reminders to the reader, pleas basically, that he is not complicit in any of this (despite being taken up to look through the peephole – comically his tie falls through the rafters and he has to quickly scoop it all up and hide before the fornicators look up; apparently) is his version of Foos’ decision to be labelled some groundbreaking social scientist rather than, you know, a fucking creep!
Talese is just the writer here. Foos is just the observer. Talese is just observing the observations.
It’s a baffling, sick-making book that also offers no real insight. Not that that would be justification for this disgusting habit/hobby.
Foos isn’t at all concerned with the spying element, beyond getting off himself and then deciding it’s groundbreaking research.
Talese isn’t at all concerned with getting into the mind of Foos, beyond one or two lines of lip-service, and figured, clearly, this would titillate, when all it does is alienate.
Talese can write. Of course. And there are one or two passages that very nearly delight. But do they deserve acclaim or mention given what they’re framing and attempting, with lazy lip-service at best, to unpack. Foos most definitely cannot write. His descriptions of the sexual acts perfunctory, detached, clumsy, rudimentary. But would it be any better – any more justified – if they were written to actually titillate? (The answer, if you’re on the fence, is no!)
A revolting book that serves no real purpose and reads, for the most part, like a lazy, concocted fiction. Foos might be a worse writer than Talese but that didn’t stop me thinking that he was still a creation of the author’s – even blurring photos of a man as Foos didn’t fully through me off while reading. The scent is, I’m sorry, fishy throughout.
And quite why he wrote this – or why I read it – is a mystery.
No, that’s not true. I read it with interest in how Talese painted himself – some sort of journalistic voice that sits away and without judgment. That was ruined when he kept asking to be cleared of any guilt. He was in on this, and a co-owner in the guilt, when he first thought to publish his, or dream this up, or agree to working through the original draft.
There are one or two moments where Foos tackles the impact of the Vietnam War, they would almost be interesting. Until you’re reminded, almost immediately, that his research took place in a pervert’s attic, without the permission of anyone else involved. His annoying tendency to refer to himself in his writing as only The Voyeur, removing himself and presumably any notion of guilt, is one of the more disgusting and distressing parts of a book riddled with taboo, faux-pas and a confused sense of entitlement and a worrying grasp of morals and legality.
Impossible to recommend.