Thy Neighbor's Wife
Thy Neighbors Wife
by Gay Talese
From the title and descriptions of this book online you would think it has a lot to do with wife swapping, and/or swinging. This is pretty far from the case. However, anybody interested in modern sexuality should definitely read this volume. What this book attempts to do is take a historical look at obscenity and what this means to the American public.. In reading other reviews and references to the book, it is often pointed out how the author directly participated while researching the subject. The reality of this book is very little direct experiences are shared. The majority of the book is old school journalistic inquiry, libraries, public record and second hand corroborated reports.
There are multiple stories regarding the sexual morals of American culture told through the book's 8500+ locations in Kindle (I guess pages are obsolete now?). Of course no discussion of American public sexuality would be complete without Playboy Magazine, Hugh Hefner, and his multiple partners. There might be more material here than Playboy deserves. Especially since the other big names in menís magazines, Penthouse and Hustler are barely mentioned, but that would be a matter of taste. Talese also gives a highly detailed history of the Sandstone retreat, one of the first swing retreats in the country. Other stories in the book include the Oneida commune of the 19th century (fascinating reading). Other topics include the proliferation of massage parlors throughout the United States and what their business really is. Detailed accounts of many of the first popular menís magazine models is included. Finally Talese also investigates the Kafkaesque obscenity laws that have existed in the United States, and how these have been addressed.
Of particular interest was the story of the Sandstone retreat. The initial characters involved were all interviewed and provided their story of what happened there and what it mean to them. The author also did his own investigation and became a regular. It was interesting reading about the ideals behind the founding of the retreat. The story was more about the why they did it, rather than what they were doing. Talese spends some time examining the unexpected consequences of participating and living in an environment with complete sexual freedom of all members.
I would say that the stories behind the slow defeat of the obscenity laws takes up the majority of the book. Itís a long fascinating history. Including multiple men that served up to and including 25 years in prison for violating the laws. Talese goes into exhaustive detail of all the characters on the front line of this battle from both the conservative and liberal sides. He culminates this story with a final fully detailed account of the Supreme Court decision, that was lost by the liberal side, but gave a definition to obscenity, thereby opening the door for our modern interpretations.
Overall anybody interested in progressive, open and liberal sexual morals in American society should read this book. It was fascinatingly eye opening how extreme the laws were. The book also gives a concise yet detailed historical view of Americaís sexual morals and how and why they have changed. It is an easy read and outside of a few parts covering the Supreme Court trials and decisions. But this book is a fascinating page turner.