What happens when the nonfiction book you’re about to put out has credibility issues?
That’s what famed journalist Gay Talese is trying to figure out right now. “The Voyeur’s Motel,” released today, chronicles a hotel owner who spied on his patrons and apparently witnessed sexual encounters, private moments, and supposedly a murder.
An April except in the New Yorker magazine led to widespread attention for the book. But The Washington Post discovered discrepancies, including owner Gerald Foos’s account of when he owned the hotel.
It seems as though Talese is deeply disturbed by the discrepancies. On June 30, he told The Washington Post: “I should not have believed a word he said. I’m not going to promote this book. How dare I promote it when its credibility is down the toilet?”
And yet that seemingly will not be the case. Talese and his publisher has since said the promotion of the book would go on, according to an exclusive interview in The New York Daily News – and the book is certainly for sale.
“Talese had sat for a lengthy interview with me before the news story broke, but in a July 5 email he wrote that when he confronted Foos, the only error Foos admitted to covering up was the eight-year gap in his 26-year ownership in the motel. He cited no other errors of which Talese should be aware. The voyeur expressed “a mixture of remorse and confusion because he said he did not ‘intentionally’ leave these details out. But,” Talese adds, “remember he is unreliable.” Over the three-plus decades they had been corresponding, Talese noticed no shift in tone during the years that Foos didn’t own the motel, a period in which Foos now says he had been raising horses and dabbling in real estate.”
Talese relied too heavily on Foos and his journal; one of few times in his career he has allowed a surrogate to tell a story. Talese wasn’t there for most of the moments in The Voyeur’s Motel, but the story seemed so interesting that it was too difficult to pass up. He did check out the perch where Foos would watch his clients. So it does exist, but he relies completely on the tales of Foos for this “non-fiction” book.
The story is told through the subject with Talese making errors along the way. Yet, while I believe the book won’t be updated in the future if all the right details finally emerge, we do live in an age where it can happen. Ebooks have often been updated in instances such as to fix errors, typos, and even update information.
The likelihood is that this book won’t change because Talese is already feeling that Foos isn’t totally reliable, which is unfortunate. It would have been nice if Talese and the publisher had pushed the release back and fact-checked a bit more.
However, the book has its greatest attention right now than at any point – so strike while the iron is hot is always a good motto to go by; at least that’s what we always said when I worked for a newspaper.
Does the revelation that this book may not be wholly truthful discourage you from checking it out?