Gay Talese defends his voyeur book

Author Gay Talese withresearch materials in the basement of his home in New York. His book, The Voyeur's Motel, to be published later this month, follows a Colorado motel owner who spied on his guests for years.
Author Gay Talese withresearch materials in the basement of his home in New York. His book, The Voyeur's Motel, to be published later this month, follows a Colorado motel owner who spied on his guests for years.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK • In a forthcoming book, The Voyeur's Motel, about a Colorado motel owner who spied on his guests for years without their knowledge, author Gay Talese warns readers that his central character can be "an inaccurate and unreliable narrator". But he might have underestimated just how unreliable motel owner Gerald Foos really is.

The book, which Grove Atlantic is to publish on July 12, follows the strange story of Foos, who used a hidden observation platform at his motel in Aurora, Colorado, to spy on his customers for decades and kept detailed notes on their behaviours, including sexual encounters and crimes.

The book was excerpted in The New Yorker in April and its film rights were optioned by director Steven Spielberg.

Now Talese has acknowledged that Foos might have failed to share some key facts. An article published by the Washington Post last Thursday revealed that Foos sold the motel in 1980 and did not repurchase it until 1988.

Informed of that by the Post, Talese, 84, said he regrets trusting Foos and does not plan to promote the book because "its credibility is down the toilet". But last Friday, he said he stands by the book.

"I was surprised and upset about this business of the later ownership of the motel in the 1980s," he said in a statement provided by his publisher. "That occurred after the bulk of the events covered in my book, but I was upset and probably said some things I didn't, and don't, mean. Let me be clear: I am not disavowing the book and neither is my publisher. If, down the line, there are details to correct in later editions, we'll do that."

Talese heard from Foos in 1980, after the motel owner learnt of the author's book, Thy Neighbor's Wife, about the sexual revolution in the 1970s. He told Talese he bought the motel to satisfy his voyeuristic impulses and invited the writer to visit. He did not want to be identified at the time, so Talese wrote nothing then.

In 2013, Foos contacted Talese and said he wanted to go public with his story. After Talese's book excerpt was published in The New Yorker, he was criticised for not revealing Foos' unethical and illegal behaviour sooner and for being complicit in his voyeurism.

If more questions arise about The Voyeur's Motel, it could leave a stain on Talese's storied legacy. He was a pioneer of New Journalism, a style of literary reportage that emerged in the 1960s. Among his most influential works were 1966 Esquire profiles of singer Frank Sinatra and baseball player Joe DiMaggio.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2016, with the headline 'Gay Talese defends his voyeur book'. Print Edition | Subscribe