“The Voyeur’s Motel”…My eyes!…My eyes!

The Voyeur’s Motel is a book of reportage about reportage.  Sounds pretty boring right?  Like writing about writing?  But here the ultimate subject is compelling to the point of prurience:

“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.”    (Gay Talese in his New Yorker magazine summarization of The Voyeur’s Motel)

The reason these written records, compiled in the 70’s and 80’s, are interesting, is that they provide a record of the actual, as opposed to self-reported sexual practices of people.  Self-reporting about sensitive subjects like sexual behavior, drug use, and of course penis size is inherently unreliable.   Like Updike said, the truth is always interesting.

With that buildup, it’s disappointing that the transcripts are largely commonplace.  A blowjob here, a breast fondling there.  An oft-described scene is an insensitive man thrusting into a woman who is not at all turned on.   Lesbian encounters are described as being much more communicative and loving.   The Voyeur, whose nom de plume is Gerald Foos, turns against the Viet Nam war after seeing disable veterans trying to have sex in his motel rooms.

The question of whether those behaviors would be different today, given the free availability of sexually-explicit content on the web, is never explored.  Remember this is taken from a time when even the “great” novelists, Updike, Roth, Bellow, could only timidly allude to anal sex.  Which is something you might see discussed on The View today.

Gerald Foos asserts that all men are voyeurs, and traces his own obsession back to his childhood seeing his buxom aunt walking around nude in her nearby house.  This book isn’t about the arc of Foos’ life though.  He considers himself to be a pioneering sex researcher but he comes across as a sort of resourceful “Rabbit Angstrom”, who ends up selling his motel and retiring with a large sports memorabilia, yearning for nothing more than a single-story house which will not challenge his arthritic knees and back.

As a reader you hope for a grand insight, but, like with most final utterances of the dying, nothing is revealed.  This closest to a moral that Gerald Foos is left with is that people behave very differently in private than they do in public, and for the most part people are dishonest:

You can never really determine during their appearances in public that the private life is full of hell and unhappiness.I have pondered why it is absolutely mandatory for people to guard with all secrecy and never let it be known that their personal lives are unhappy and deplorable. This is the plight of the human corpus,” and I am sure provides the answer that, if the misery of mankind were revealed altogether spontaneously, mass genocide might correspondengly follow.

That’s enough to make anyone avert their gaze.

  1. Now the voyeur is a catfish.

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