underway, as well as his experiences
managing massage parlors in New York
and hanging out at a nude beach near
Ocean City, among other activities often
seen as morally questionable. His goal was
to understand American sexual mores in
the last days of the sexual revolution. But
feminists, anti-porn activists and some
critics doubted his intentions.
The attention he pays in The Voyeur’s
Motel to Gerald Foos, the creepy hotel
operator who spied on guests using an
“observation platform” outfitted with
customized-phony ceiling vents, has
been similarly maligned.
But there was a difference this time, in
that Talese was also taken to task for col-
laborating with Foos, who turned out to
be unreliable in reporting his adventures
in peeping. While most of the narra-
tive in The Voyeur’s Motel takes place
before 1980, one voyeuristic scene occurs
between 1980 and 1988, when Foos had
already sold the motel. Talese didn’t
know about the sale until the Washington
Post uncovered it. The revelation cast
doubt on some of the recollections Foos
shared with Talese.
Nonetheless, Talese hasn’t disavowed
the book. And neither has David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, who
has stood by it since excerpting it in the
magazine last spring before publication.
In an e-mail to the New York Times last
summer, Remnick wrote: “The central
fact of the piece, that Gerald Foos was, in
the late ’60s and ’70s, a voyeur, spying on
the guests in his motel, is not in doubt in
the article. The fact that he could some-
times prove an unreliable and inaccurate
narrator is also something that Gay Ta-
lese makes clear to the reader, repeatedly,
and is part of the way Foos is character-
ized throughout the article.”
Talese says if there are details to cor-
rect in later editions, “we’ll do that.”
What he will not do, he says, is stop
drilling deep into the stories that fasci-
nate him, even when they involve spilling
the details of his own marriage—a subject
he knows will court still more contro-
versy—or cooperating with loathsome
types like Foos. “My ambition as a nonfic-
tion writer is to move into an area that
nonfiction writers don’t usually move
into—private life. In A Nonfiction Mar-
riage, I’m naming me and I’m naming my
wife; it’s not made up.
“I haven’t changed much. I’m an old
guy doing the same things I did as a young
guy in New Jersey,” he says. “Foos is a
typical character for me. I’ve often writ-
ten about ordinary people and disrepu-
Sometimes, though, his subjects are
shinier. Dazzling, even.
Frank Sinatra, for example.
“He was never a loser,” Talese says.
“He was always glamorous.”
Some might argue otherwise, but at
least one of the characters he’s investi-
gating for A Nonfiction Marriage also fits
that category: Gay Talese himself.
Tammy La Gorce is a frequent contributor.
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