Gay Talese’s “The Voyeur’s Motel”

Gay Talese’s “The Voyeur’s Motel” is one of the most bizarre, compelling, shocking, vile, disgusting, and fascinating stories I’ve ever read. It’s somewhat but not ridiculously explicit (it was published in The New Yorker and consists solely of text), and, about 80% of the way through, the article takes an unexpected twist that deepens the moral questions that haunt the entire thing.

It starts this way:

I know a married man and father of two who bought a twenty-one-room motel near Denver many years ago in order to become its resident voyeur. With the assistance of his wife, he cut rectangular holes measuring six by fourteen inches in the ceilings of more than a dozen rooms. Then he covered the openings with louvred aluminum screens that looked like ventilation grilles but were actually observation vents that allowed him, while he knelt in the attic, to see his guests in the rooms below. He watched them for decades, while keeping an exhaustive written record of what he saw and heard. Never once, during all those years, was he caught.

“WTF?” you may be thinking. That at least was what I was thinking and, even after finishing, still am thinking. “The Voyeur’s Motel” is so unusual that I’m not saving it for a usual links post. An eponymous book will be published in July; I pre-ordered, though doing so has a slightly complicit, slimy feel. Talese feels complicit and by extension so should we, the readers. Is moral contagion a thing? Usually I’d argue no.

Talese also wrote Thy Neighbor’s Wife.

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