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.