Back in April I read the New Yorker’s article outlining the story of Gerald Foos, who bought a motel in Colorado in order to exploit his voyeuristic tendencies. When I found out that the article was based off passages from Gay Talese’s upcoming book, The Voyeur’s Motel, I was sold. I live for studies of other people’s life experiences - especially when those lives are taboo.
In the 1980s, Talese received a then-anonymous letter from Gerald Foos claiming he had volumes of important knowledge on the basis of human nature and sex, expanding on to reveal the purchase of his motel bought for the purpose of watching people in their “most natural state.” In practice, this meant that Foos literally built a walkway in the roof of his motel and fitted the air vents so that he was able to peek down into his patron’s rooms and observe them unknowingly. The result was decades of handwritten notes outlining the behavior of his guests as they lived, loved, fought, and made love.
Based on the article, and the description, I thought this book would be a lot more explosive than it was. Rather, once you get past the initial shock-factor of what Foos was trying to pull off, it was fairly repetitive. The book is comprised of around thirty short chapters, part commentary and analysis by Talese, and part journal entry from The Voyeur. Often, these chapters grouped together subjects of observation, such as people’s honesty/dishonesty when they aren’t being watched or the way women act when alone.
As the book progresses, you start to see how Foos gains an increasingly large God complex, creating moral tests for his tenants and seeking justice on those who disrespected his property. Frankly, I think this book would have been more interesting if had been more of a character study of Gerald Foos, one that explores the psychology of voyeurism. Instead, you get (sometimes interesting) notes from an unreliable narrator with brief interruptions for context by Gay Talese.
When this book came out this summer, it had quite a bit of controversy surrounding it. Many of the dates and narratives are inconsistent and occasionally do not add up. This isn’t really something that bothered me, but if journalistic integrity is something that really matters to you, it’s something to keep in mind. For me, this was purely morbid curiosity - I’d have probably read it even if it was fiction.