The Voyeur’s Motelby Gay Talese
From Gay Talese, a remarkable new work of reportage more than thirty years in the making.
On January 7, 1980, in the run-up to the publication of his landmark bestseller Thy Neighbor’s Wife, Gay Talese received an anonymous handwritten 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: he had bought a motel outside Denver for the express purpose of satisfying his voyeuristic desires. Underneath the peaked roof of his motel, the man had built an “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—and verified his story in person. But because Foos insisted on remaining anonymous, preserving for himself the privacy he denied his guests, Talese filed his reporting away, assuming the story would remain untold.
Over the ensuing years, Foos occasionally reached out to Talese to fill him in on the latest developments in his life. He also sent Talese hundreds of pages of notes on his guests and their habits, work that Foos believed made him a pioneering researcher into American society and sexuality. America in microcosm had passed through the Voyeur’s motel, and he witnessed and recorded the harsh effects of the war in Vietnam, the upheaval in gender roles, the decline of segregation, and much more. But Foos continued to insist on anonymity. Now, after thirty-five years, he’s ready to go public and Gay Talese can finally tell his story.
The Voyeur’s Motel is an extraordinary work of narrative journalism. It is at once an examination of one unsettling man and a portrait of the secret life of the American heartland over the latter half of the twentieth century.
“This book flipped nearly all of my switches as a reader. It’s a strange, melancholy, morally complex, grainy, often appalling and sometimes bleakly funny book, one that casts a spell not dissimilar to that cast by Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer . . . Gripping . . . [Talese] lays out what he knows and does not know in sentences that are as crisp as good Windsor knots. He expresses his qualms, but trusts the reader to come to his or her own conclusions . . . An intense book.” —Dwight Garner, New York Times
“Informative and intriguing . . . [I] was enlightened and entertained by The Voyeur’s Motel.” —Jane Smiley, Washington Post
“This is a weird book about weird people doing weird things, and I wouldn’t have put it down if the house were on fire.” —John Greenya, Washington Times
“The Voyeur’s Motel . . . had me hooked . . . It’s an unsettling book, like being trapped in a hall of mirrors. The reader observes Talese observing Foos observing his guests. It might make you lose your bearings, but at the same time it’s completely mesmerising, and often darkly funny, too.” —Daily Mail (UK) (Event Critics’ Best Books of the Year)
“Whether Gerald Foos is telling the complete truth is almost beside the point. The Voyeur is so fascinating a character—insightful, observant and amoral—that the reader becomes caught up in his story . . . Foos is also uniquely American: narcissistic yet compassionate, nosy yet private, and self-aggrandizing above all. His obsession is not entirely outside the mainstream, when you consider that pornography is widely available and reality TV shows like The Bachelor offer sexual foreplay as entertainment. The Voyeur’s Motel is a slim volume . . . [that] packs an uneasy punch.” —Providence Journal
“Undoubtedly creepy and unnerving but also an entirely compelling slice of seamy American life.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Foos [is revealed] as a singularly pervy, grandiose, and strangely eloquent weirdo who would be irresistible to any writer, let alone one as talented, patient, and thoughtful as Talese . . . Those seeking a uniquely discomfiting journey couldn’t find a better pair of reprobates with whom to cast their lot.” —Eugenia Williamson, Booklist
“[A] truly shocking story . . . Not your typical beach book, perhaps, but you may want to read this compulsive page-turner—which raises all sorts of fascinating journalistic, moral and legal issues—under cover of an umbrella.” —Heller McAlpin, Barnes & Noble Review
“Pioneering reporter Gay Talese tells the ultimate surveillance story in The Voyeur’s Motel . . . Talese—a master of elegant, understated prose—uses an objective reportorial style to tell the voyeur’s story, and it’s the right approach for a narrative that requires no extra spice . . . An unforgettable book.” —Julie Hale, BookPage
“A provocative and compelling story.” —Alfonso Guerriero, Jr., Midwest Book Review
“If you’ve ever wanted your inner voyeur to run free, vicariously at least, then The Voyeur’s Motel is for you . . . Motel delves deeply into the taboo world with no holds barred and no excuses . . . The type of unflinching New Journalism that Talese helped found three decades ago.” —Jim Ewing, Jackson Clarion Ledger
“An unsettling read . . . Foos’s notes offer a long-term glimpse into the sex lives of Americans.” —Aaron Hutchins, Maclean’s (Canada)
“A riveting page-turner . . . Short and brisk, it tells a compellingly sordid story, and Foos is one fascinating dude . . . The book is compulsively readable.” —Morley Walker, Winnipeg Free Press
“[An] eye-popping book . . . Completely riveting from start to finish . . . Darkly comical . . . It is by turns fascinating and illuminating, very creepy and very funny, and will live in my memory long after many more doggedly accurate works have vanished into thin air.” —Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday (UK)
Named a Best Book of the Year by the Daily Mail (Event Critics’ Selection)
An American Booksellers Association Bestseller (Hardcover Nonfiction)