He is right to stand by his book. Mr. Talese makes it abundantly clear in The Voyeur’s Motel that Mr. Foos is not an entirely reliable narrator ... I’m not altogether certain I can make an airtight ethical case for Mr. Talese’s journalism in The Voyeur’s Motel, at least not in the space remaining in this column, but I can make a literary one. 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 reason The Voyeur’s Motel is gripping is that Mr. Talese doesn’t fletcherize his material. He 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. Nor does he demonize Mr. Foos ... You will often feel shabby while reading The Voyeur’s Motel. You are meant to. It’s an intense book that reminds us that a problem of being alive is seeing things you hate but are attracted to anyway. It’s possible to admire it while wanting to pluck out your own prying eyes.
Like a Playboy bunny’s pneumatically enhanced breasts, the book is tumescent with titillating filler. There is a separate chapter dedicated to the Polaroid camera, which is really just a pretext to include a few pages about a young woman masturbating ... Disingenuously, Talese treats us to Foos’s drab social and political commentary, again as a pretext to shoehorn in more sex scenes ...The problem is that Foos isn’t Michael Herr; he’s not Daniel Bell; for heaven’s sakes, he’s not even Gay Talese! ... Basically you can’t trust the 84-year-old Gay Talese to get his facts straight, which is a sad end to a remarkable career. It is also sad that this silly, over-inflated book manages to have even less 'content' than the magazine excerpt, which is barely one-fifth its length.
There is no appreciable evidence in the book of any effort to interview Donna, or Foos’s second wife, Anita, which seems an astonishing oversight ... In Talese’s book, the confidence man gives way to the voyeur, a perfect metaphor for the reporter’s compromised role, and Talese knows it ... Talese is too intelligent not to raise questions about his own complicity. But he asks the question lightly, without answering it, and then trots off to share the next sordid anecdote, which he is generally content to let Foos narrate. Talese is capable of brilliant prose; Gerald Foos is not. Unfortunately, at least a third of this book is written by Foos ... The Voyeur’s Motel is a work of great moral queasiness, and intellectual inertia. In the end, Talese refuses to take any view at all. But without a viewpoint we are left with only voyeurism itself: watching, and learning nothing.
Quoted extensively — so much so that in places, Talese’s writing comes off as little more than set-up for what Foos calls The Voyeur’s Diary — these read, for the most part, like perversion more than research, which is how he characterized his activities ... Journalists traffic with unsavory sources all the time, and Talese, for his part, never endorses his subject’s behavior, even when (as he must) he goes along for the ride ... That the book is flawed too should go without saying, although this is about more than its accuracy. Rather, Talese’s key error, I think, is his over-reliance on Foos and his diary as a central source — so much so that Foos was paid for the use of his material ... That in the end, Talese appears not to have parsed the details closely enough may have less to do with his failings, or those of journalism, than with his desire to believe.
By my rough count, excerpts from the motelkeeper’s sex journal make up about 80 of the book’s 233 pages, rendering Foos a partner in duet with Talese if not his uncredited co-author ... Read as erotica, the Foos-Talese collaboration does not arouse. Viewed as a social history it doesn’t enlighten. Approached as a scientific investigation his work is not even crackpot ... As you might suspect, Talese writes with his usual elegance, putting a stylistic shine on his end of the collaboration. But the journalistic enterprise that was on display in his earlier work about sex is absent here as Talese fails to find something insightful to say about his taboo-shattering motelier. The novelistic techniques of New Journalism succeed in putting him and the reader inside Gerald Foos’s now-famous crawl space, but they never really extricate him from the banality of the peep hole.
The Voyeur’s Motel is a weird, fascinating and thoroughly uncomfortable story built from layers of complicity ... Despite the moral discomfort and despite its astonishing sloppiness, The Voyeur’s Motel still makes creepily fascinating reading ... Yet the central question of what led him — a married man with two children and two successive wives each obliging enough to condone and even assist his vigils in the attic — to do this, is one Talese fails to answer satisfactorily.
If you think you are getting a book written by Talese, you’re wrong; Talese’s own words serve as little more than transition to lengthy passages of Foos porn ... I am a great admirer of Talese’s other work, but I read this book with growing discomfort, looking for some larger meaning, waiting for some nonprurient reason for publishing it. He tries, toward the end, to draw larger, possibly ironic conclusions about constant observation in today’s Big Brother society, but they are halfhearted and not at all convincing ... What a sad ending to a long and stellar career. In putting this book together, the vastly talented Talese has tarnished his reputation and made voyeurs of us all.
To make good art from bad things requires, at a minimum, some kind of self-examination, which Gay Talese’s new book, The Voyeur’s Motel does very rarely ... Talese comes from an era in which a limited number of people were allowed to control anyone else’s narrative. The Voyeur’s Motel is, among other things, the product of such entitlement, and it is vile.
In the end, this book is no contribution to 'social history,' as Foos and Talese suggest. It is, at best, a lewd and licentious footnote to Talese’s Thy Neighbor’s Wife. Foos is nothing more than an arrogant, delusional jerk who believes his years of illegal activity have value, and mistakes his attic as moral high ground. The sad upshot: Foos and Talese are lurking kindred spirits. And Talese’s journalistic rational for writing this book sounds pathetically like saying you buy Playboy for the articles.
...informative and intriguing ... All projects have their ups and downs, and those who write the books or do the projects should be open about them, but I, as a reader, was enlightened and entertained by The Voyeur’s Motel; Foos and Talese can be Masters and Johnson, or they can be Henry Miller. It is up to the reader to decide.
Though The Voyeur’s Motel is initially gripping, it soon reveals itself for what it is: a one-note portrait of a man with an extremely disturbing hobby ... Foos comes off as single-minded — he appears to have been unaccountably obsessed with his guests’ amorous habits. As a result, the book is correspondingly one-dimensional; chapter after chapter is devoted to Foos’ half-baked theories about human sexuality ... Late in the book, Talese asks Foos how he’d like to be received when his secret goes public. 'I think of myself as a ‘pioneering sex researcher,' he replies. It’s a safe bet that some readers won’t see it that way.
That lack of consent is the book's original, irreducible sin. Out of it stem other, lesser faults — faults of fact, taste, and ethics — but it is this violation that makes the whole book basically untenable ... if Talese has consulted victims, lawyers, or the vast academic literature on voyeurism, there is no hint of that research in this book. He never even performs the basic exercise of imagining what it would feel like to be the victim of voyeurism.
How you feel about The Voyeur's Motel will depend in part on how much you value facts, since they are very much in question here ... Padded out to book length, The Voyeur's Motel is decidedly more plodding [than the New Yorker article], since a third of the page count is given over to the voyeur's journal ... With shades of Rear Window, Foos' follies would seem tailor-made for Talese, who remains, whatever his faults, a graceful writer. But this story, right up to its perfect final sentence, is somehow too small for him.