Curiously, Thy Neighbor’s Wife garnered far better reviews as sales declined over the years. By the time it was out of print, the book was considered something of a classic - a portrait and history of America’s sexual culture by one of the foremost reporters of that generation. There was nothing like it, then. There has been nothing really like it since. No one has laid bare American sexual culture in such vivid and sometimes agonizing detail as has Talese.
If you were there in the ‘70s, the reissued paperback of Wife is worth reading if for nothing other than what is new - a foreword by Katie Roiphe, an update on people and places and an afterword by Talese. If you weren’t there and wonder what it was like, Thy Neighbor’s Wife is required reading.
You may be struck forcibly, as I am, at how relevant and timely the material remains. The sexual revolution did not end, as is often postulated, with AIDS and the presidency of Ronald Reagan; a premise of my own work (and I’m absurdly but profoundly pleased to get a brief mention by Talese in the afterword to Thy Neighbor’s Wife) is that the revolution is resurgent in a new age of social-sexual networking. I am grateful not to have to compete with Talese in reporting on this. His afterword touches artfully on all that has happened in sexual culture since 1980, but he leaves the field reasonably clear. Has the Internet fundamentally changed sexual culture in America? Talese would not know firsthand, himself. Famously, he is still a typewriter kind of a guy; his concession to modern telecommunications is using a fax machine. But he knows there are books in the details, in the portrait. Because there always are.
As he himself concludes: “There is nothing new in Thy Neighbor’s Wife. ... Nor is there anything old.”