On January 7, 1980, in the run-up to the publication of his landmark bestseller Thy Neighbor’s Wife, Gay Talese received an anonymous letter from a man in Colorado. “Since learning of your long awaited study of coast-to-coast sex in America,” the letter began, “I feel I have important information that I could contribute to its contents or to contents of a future book.” The man went on to tell Talese an astonishing secret, that he had bought a motel to satisfy his voyeuristic desires. He had built an attic “observation platform,” fitted with vents, through which he could peer down on his unwitting guests.
Unsure what to make of this confession, Talese traveled to Colorado where he met the man—Gerald Foos—verified his story in person, and read some of his extensive journals, a secret record of America’s changing social and sexual mores. But because Foos insisted on remaining anonymous, Talese filed his reporting away, assuming the story would remain untold. Now, after thirty-five years, he’s ready to go public and Talese can finally tell his story. The Voyeur’s Motel is an extraordinary work of narrative journalism, at once a portrait of one complicated man, and an examination of secret lives and shifting mores in a culturally-evolving country.
A Peeping Tom with delusions of grandeur takes notes on the human condition in this tawdry but revealing case study. Journalist Talese (Thy Neighbor's Wife) was contacted in 1980 by Gerald Foos, a Colorado motel owner who spied on guests from the motel attic through fake ceiling vents, meticulously recording his own observations. (Talese is releasing the book now because Foos recently released him from a confidentiality agreement.) The book's heart consists of excerpts from Foos's decades-long observations of the guests' sex acts and other interactions; these include perfunctory marital couplings, clandestine trysts, florid swinger parties, goat costumes, an ugly bout of incest, a possible murder, and other lesser crimes. (Foos sometimes tricked guests into thinking a suitcase held $1,000 cash to see if they would try to steal it; most did, including a minister.) There's a prurient charge to these vignettes, but Foos's pretense of sexological research isn't entirely misplaced; his accounts are well-observed, with telling details "they all three laid quiet on the bed and relaxed, discussing vacuum-cleaner sales" and insights into the psychology behind the physicality. Foos's rather appalling personality is too dull to sustain Talese's enveloping biographical sketch, but the dirty laundry here has some interesting stains. Photos. (Jul.)
Customer ReviewsSee All
I enjoyed the book for the most part. I think if you look at it for exactly what it is, the spying isn't the upsetting part of the story. He didn't use what he saw to victimize these people. However, by actually going into the rooms of some of the guests he was spying on he changed the course of their lives. Planting temptations and stealing what he didn't agree with is what I believe the worst part of his crimes.