The Voyeur’s Motel, by celebrated journalist Gay Talese (shame about the last ‘e’ in his surname), is the true story of a motel owner who, in 1966, installed specially made vents into the 21 rooms of his Denver hotel and secretly watched his guests.
For decades. ‘Research,’ he said, but admits to some wanking. There’s a chapter on this guy in another of Talese’s books (Thy Neighbor’s Wife). His name is Gerald Foos. That’s him in the picture. He wrote a letter to Talese in 1980 explaining that he had bought the motel to ‘satisfy (his) voyeuristic tendencies and compelling interest in all phases of how people conduct their lives, both socially and sexually.’ His wife, Donna Foos, also had a compelling interest in all phases of how people conduct their lives, and she helped install the vents, and sometimes she and her husband had sex in the roof of the motel while watching guests have sex below.
Gerald Foos kept a record of everything he’d seen while spying, and he offered his journals to Talese as raw material for a book about human behaviour. But there was a catch: Foos could not be named. Talese said he’d like to write a book but would not grant Foos anonymity.The deal was off.
In 2013, Foos wrote Talese and said, ‘Okay, you can use my name,’ and now, in 2016, with have this compelling, masterfully written, and exceedingly creepy work of non-fiction, as well as an upcoming Netflix documentary directed by Myles Kane and Josh Koury.
But before you make the decision to watch (or not watch) the film Voyeur, it’s the book you need to read first. Once you begin The Voyeur’s Motel you can’t put it down. You can’t not read about the things Foos saw through those vents. And while it makes you feel dirty and complicit, you have to keep reading because who knows what the humans are going to do next (it gets so weird). In this way, the reader is as immoral as Foos. Sure, the reader didn’t buy a motel and sneak around in the roof for forty years, but you know what I mean.
The Voyeur’s Motel is a detailed account of the wildly unethical and highly illegal behaviour of a turbo-charged super-pervert, and Talese has received quite a bit of flak for bringing him and his findings into the arena of literary entertainment. Probably doesn’t help that he actually had a peep through the vents himself, either… But didn’t he have to do that for the sake of the story? He had to see Foos’ set-up with his own eyes for verification, right? Wouldn’t you have had a look? I don’t know if I would. It’s dicey stuff. I’ll tell you this much–The Voyeur’s Motel is easily one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read (spoiler: Foos witnesses a murder in one his rooms) and I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down. Hopely the documentary lives up to to the hype.