Author Gay Talese said he would not be promoting his latest book — and then changed his mind — after the Washington Post raised serious doubts about the story it tells.
Called The Voyeur’s Motel, it’s the nonfiction account of an Aurora, Colo., man named Gerald Foos, who says he bought the motel in question in order to spy on the sexual lives of his guests. The book combines Talese’s reporting with Foos’ own journals to produce a kind of retractable telescope of voyeurism: readers watching Talese watch Foos watch his guests.
A shortened version of The Voyeur’s Motel appeared in the New Yorker earlier this year, attracting considerable attention and criticism, and Steven Spielberg bought the movie rights.
Over the course of decades, Foos apparently kept detailed notes on his guests, whom he watched from behind fake vents in the ceilings at his Manor House Motel. If they piqued his interest and lived nearby, he followed them home to continue observing. Much of the book is made up of direct quotes from Foos’ detailed journal of his voyeurism (enough of it, in fact, that Foos will receive payment for the book), and Talese’s narrative relies heavily on interviews with Foos.
But Foos’ deception may extend past fake vents: Some of the events he claimed to have witnessed happened during a period when — as it turns out — he no longer owned the motel.
The Washington Post reported that Foos did not actually own the motel from 1980 to 1988, although he had said he was still engaged in voyeurism at that point.
The discrepancy was revealed after the Post and several other media organizations began digging into an unsolved homicide that occurred at the motel in 1984. Aurora homicide Detective Stephen W. Conner told the Post that Foos had in fact sold the Manor House at that point, before buying it back and selling it again, which suggests Foos did not have access to his viewing platforms at the times he claims. “I have no doubt that Mr. Foos may have been involved in some nefarious activity while he owned the Manor House,” Conner told the paper. “I just do not think it arose to the magnitude described by Mr. Talese.”
In the book, Talese notes that he can’t vouch for everything Foos told him: He says that Foos’ accounts of voyeurism begin in 1966 — but that he only bought the motel in 1969. Talese also could not confirm a murder Foos claimed to have witnessed in 1977 — but noted that, in those pre-electronic times, the police records could have been lost.
Confronted by the Post with discrepancies in what Foos told him, Talese responded, “I should not have believed a word he said,” and said he would not promote the book. “How dare I promote it when its credibility is down the toilet?”
But in a press release sent out by his publisher, Talese said he spoke too quickly: “When I spoke to the Washington Post reporter, I am sure I was surprised and upset about this business of the later ownership of the motel, in the ’80s. That occurred after the bulk of the events covered in my book, but I was upset and probably said some things I didn’t, and don’t, mean. Let me be clear: I am not disavowing the book and neither is my publisher. If, down the line, there are details to correct in later editions, we’ll do that.”
Foos, on the other hand, insisted to the Post, “Everything I said in that book is the truth.”
Talese’s publisher, Grove/Atlantic, says the book will come out as planned. CEO Morgan Entrekin wrote in the press release, “Grove takes the Post story seriously and will work with Talese to address any questions in future printings.”