Feature

The book that ruined Gay Talese

Gay Talese suffered a bruising literary and personal backlash over the book, <em>Thy Neighbor&rsquo;s Wife,</em> his exhaustive 1981 exploration of America&rsquo;s sexual revolution.

Gay Talese once carried his work a little too far, says Jonathan Van Meter in New York. In researching Thy Neighbor’s Wife, his exhaustive 1981 exploration of America’s sexual revolution, Talese indulged in some of the carnal delights he was writing about—and openly admitted it. His wife, Nan, a publisher and literary agent, finally left him, and although she returned a few days later, their union was never quite the same. “I’m telling you, it was a miserable time,” says the 77-year-old Talese, slumping in his couch. “I can only blame myself. It was a case of me being … so uncareful. And Nan was unhappy. From my point of view, that was the beginning of a lot of problems in this marriage. Sometimes, within the marriage, you are vulnerable during arguments to have this one thing—my illustrious and decadent period of researching Thy Neighbor’s Wife—come up again and again. It can be 20 years later: ‘Oh, well, I had to put up with you when you were running massage parlors and running around with no clothes on!’” Talese suffered a bruising backlash over the book, and with his career foundering, he sought help from several therapists. “One guy I saw was a Freudian,” Talese recalls. “He said, ‘What you did was to commit literary suicide.’”

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