July 1, 2016

"I’m not going to promote this book ... How dare I promote it when its credibility is down the toilet?"

Said Gay Talese. (WaPo link.) His book, “The Voyeur’s Motel,” is about a motel owner who (supposedly) spied on his guests through ceiling vents into various rooms:
Foos’s earliest journal entries, for example, were dated 1966. But the author subsequently learned from county property records that Foos didn’t buy the Manor House Motel until 1969 — three years after he said he started watching his guests from the catwalk. “I cannot vouch for every detail that he recounts in his manuscript,” Talese writes in the book.

But property records also show a series of sales and purchases of the motel from 1980 to 1988, none of which Talese said he knew about. In a series of interviews, he expressed surprise, disappointment and anger to learn about the transactions. He said he had not been aware of them until a reporter asked him about it on Wednesday.

“The source of my book, Gerald Foos, is certifiably unreliable,” Talese said. “He’s a dishonorable man, totally dishonorable. . . . I know that. . . . I did the best I could on this book, but maybe it wasn’t good enough.”
The New Yorker looks bad too: "New Yorker editor David Remnick said he hadn’t had time to review the magazine’s vetting of the excerpt it published in April but would look into it."

We talked about this book back in April when the New Yorker excerpt appeared. In the comments, M Jordan said, presciently: "Wait a minute ... was this fiction or nonfiction?"

UPDATE: Talese repositions himself:
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."

23 comments:

traditionalguy said...

Is this fiction? That seems to be the question to ask writers who sell their book as a True Story...or a book based on a true story.

David Begley said...

The famous New Yorker and the book publisher should have ordered a title search on the real estate.

Idiots.

Psota said...

Was this a book about the history of the title for this motel? Or was it about a creepy guy who built an elaborate system he used to spy on the sex lives of his clientele? Everyone seems to agree that Foos was a peeping tom. The guy who bought the motel certainly knew about it. And didn't Talese go into the loft with Foos and watch? Did that happen or not?!

Clearly many of the dates are off. Foos also appears to have greatly exaggerated some of his claims, like with the alleged murder, but the core of the story seems intact...unless Talese is the one making up stories.

David Begley said...

Psota

It goes to the entire credibility of the book. Credibility is always on trial in a non-fiction book.

I guess the guy kept dated journal entries. If the dates are wrong, then what else is wrong?

Yes, there was a spy system built in the motel but what else is true?

I also wonder if all civil and criminal statute of limitations have expired.

Once written, twice... said...

When I read the except in the New Yorker back in the Spring I understood it to be fiction. Are we really to believe that Gay Talese did not report a murder?

He is milking this for all it is worth. Well done Gay Talese!

Bay Area Guy said...

M Jordan gently nailed it back in April.

In turn, I commented back then:

Why write and publish a neutral piece about a creepy, perverted liar like this Motel owner? Thanks, New Yorker!

Old Gay Talese has some serious blinders on.

Once written, twice... said...

Because it is obviously fiction. Gay is commenting on how lines have been blurred.

Do we even know if Trump is running a real campaign for president yet?

Unknown said...

Totally fiction and totally hilarious. I loved the excerpt, will probably buy the book. If you haven't read the magazine article, look it up. If you enjoy a certain type of dark humor, it will keep you in stitches. Tale se is especially good at repeatedly topping himself (ahem), just when you think it can't get any weirder or more funny. I hope it will turn out that he fooled the mucho pomposo New Yorker, but sadly my guess is they were in on it, too.

Once written, twice... said...

The New Yorker is in on it too.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Kind of makes me wonder what kind of toilets they had at the Manor House Motel.

Sebastian said...

Boy, a story like this really makes you lose faith in journalism and editors. Sure makes you wonder about other nonfiction stories we have heard. For example, could it be that Dreams from My Father is actually fiction? Or An Inconvenient Fact? I'm getting worried.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Layers and layers of fact checkers...

YoungHegelian said...

Well, hey, maybe Talese can tie it into Steinbeck's most probably fictional "Travels with Charley" & re-name the book "Charley Checks in for the Night".

William said...

I read the article when it came out. It held your attention. This story presents a kind Borges, hall of mirrors labyrinth. At what point does an elaborate lie become a work of fiction and how much skepticism should we invest in our wish to believe in the worst of human nature. What did this man get off on--voyeurism, involving others in his voyeurism, or telling lies about his voyeurism.........I don't think this will hurt book sales. Chatterton would have been the ideal chronicler of these events.

mikee said...

There comes a point where someone has to say, "Hey, this is a book about the disgusting behavior of a pervert. It ain't written to the standards of Lolita, according to its reviews. It is, in fact, nothing less than crap writing, about crap. And therefore I refuse to soil myself with it."

Could there be a Sad Puppies campaign organized for nonfiction, please?

chickelit said...

Althouse wrote: We talked about this book back in April when the New Yorker excerpt appeared. In the comments, M Jordan said, presciently: 'Wait a minute ... was this fiction or nonfiction?'

Althouse waded into the comments shortly afterwards to insist that it was non-fiction. That tells me something about Althouse's gullibility when it comes to certain writers.

Just sayin'

Joe said...

Was Talese under contract?

Freeman Hunt said...

Given the story, I'm rather relieved.

Freeman Hunt said...

"That tells me something about Althouse's gullibility when it comes to certain writers."

I don't think that's fair. She was answering a question of genre, not making a close appraisal of veracity.

chickelit said...

@Freeman: But that misses M Jordan's rhetorical point. Althouse could have just said "I don't know -- I assume it's non fiction." Or better, nothing at all.

Ann Althouse said...

"fair. She was answering a question of genre, not making a close appraisal of veracity."

Correct.

Books published as no fiction don't become fiction if they turn out to be poorly supported or based on interviews with liars.

A work of fiction is absorbed and judged in a completely different way, which is why Talese is ashamed of his book and declines to promote it.

Once written, twice... said...

God Ann you are so dumb for someone with so much education.

It's a feint!

openidname said...

But he's gonna keep the advance, right?