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Thy Neighbor's Wife

Thy Neighbor's Wife by Gay Talese
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The provocative classic work newly updated

An intimate personal odyssey across America's changing sexual landscape

When first published, Gay Talese's 1981 groundbreaking work, Thy Neighbor's Wife, shocked a nation with its powerful, eye-opening revelations about the sexual activities and proclivities of the American public in the era before AIDS. A marvel of journalistic courage and craft, the book opened a window into a new world built on a new moral foundation, carrying the reader on a remarkable journey from the Playboy Mansion to the Supreme Court, to the backyards and bedrooms of suburbia—through the development of the porn industry, the rise of the "swinger" culture, the legal fight to define obscenity, and the daily sex lives of "ordinary" people. It is the book that forever changed the way Americans look at themselves and one another.

HarperCollins; June 2009
608 pages; ISBN 9780061872280
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Title: Thy Neighbor's Wife
Author: Gay Talese

Chapter One

She was completely nude, lying on her stomach in the desert sand, her legs spread wide, her long hair flowing in the wind, her head tilted back with her eyes closed. She seemed lost in private thoughts, remote from the world, reclining on this windswept dune in California near the Mexican border, adorned by nothing but her natural beauty. She wore no jewelry, no flowers in her hair; there were no footprints in the sand, nothing dated the day or spoiled the perfection of this photograph except the moist fingers of the seventeen-year-old schoolboy who held it and looked at it with adolescent longing and lust.

The picture was in a photographic art magazine that he had just bought at a newsstand on the corner of Cerinak Road in suburban Chicago. It was an early evening in 1957, cold and windy, but Harold Rubin could feel the warmth rising within him as he studied the photograph under the streetlamp near the curb behind the stand, oblivious to the sounds of traffic and the people passing on their way home.

He flipped through the pages to look at the other nude women, seeing to what degree he could respond to them. There had been times in the past when, after buying one of these magazines hastily, because they were sold under the counter and were therefore unavailable for adequate erotic preview, he was greatly disappointed. Either the volleyball-playing nudists in Sunshine & Health, the only magazine showing pubic hair in the 1950S, were too hefty; or the smiling show girls in Modern Man were trying too hard to entice; or the models in Classic Photography were merely objects of the camera, lost in artistic shadows.

While Harold Rubin usually could achieve some solitary fulfillment from these, they were soon relegated to the lower levels of the stacks of magazines that he kept at home in the closet of his bedroom. At the top of the pile were the more proven products, those women who projected a certain emotion or posed in a certain way that was immediately stimulating to him; and, more important, their effect was enduring. He could ignore them in the closet for weeks or months as he sought a new discovery elsewhere. But, failing to find it, be knew be could return home and revive a relationship with one of the favorites in his paper harem, achieving gratification that was certainly different from but not incompatible with the sex life he had with a girl he knew from Morton High School. One blended with the other somehow. When he was making love to her on the sofa when her parents were out, he was sometimes thinking of the more mature women in the magazines. At other times, when alone with his magazines, he might recall moments with his girl friend, remembering what she looked like with her clothes off, what she felt like, what they did together.

Recently, however, perhaps because he was feeling restless and uncertain and was thinking of dropping out of school, leaving his girl, and joining the Air Force, Harold Rubin was more detached than usual from life in Chicago, was more into fantasy, particularly when in the presence of pictures of one special woman who, he had to admit, was becoming an obsession.

It was this woman whose picture he had just seen in the magazine he now held on the sidewalk, the nude on the sand dune. He had first noticed her months ago in a camera quarterly. She also had appeared in several men's publications, adventure magazines, and a nudist calendar. It was not only her beauty that had attracted him, the classic lines of her body or the wholesome features of her face, but the entire aura that accompanied each picture, a feeling of her being completely free with nature and herself as she walked along the seashore, or stood near a palm tree, or sat on a rocky cliff with waves splashing below. 'While in some pictures she seemed remote and ethereal, probably unobtainable, there was a pervasive reality about her, and he felt close to her. He also knew her name. It had appeared in a picture caption, and he was confident that it was her real name and not one of those pixie pseudonyms used by some playmates and pinups who concealed their true identity from the men they wished to titillate.

Her name was Diane Webber. Her home was along the beach at Malibu. It was said that she was a ballet dancer, which explained to Harold the disciplined body control she exhibited in several of her positions in front of the camera. In one picture in the magazine he now held, Diane Webber was almost acrobatic as she balanced herself gracefully above the sand on her outstretched arms with a leg extended high over her head, her toes pointed up into a cloudless sky. On the opposite page she was resting on her side, hips fully rounded, one thigh raised slightly and barely covering her pubis, her breasts revealed, the nipples erect.

Harold Rubin quickly closed the magazine. He slipped it between his school books and tucked them under his arm. It was getting late and he was soon due home for dinner. Turning, he noticed that the old cigar-smoking news vendor was looking at him, winking, but Harold ignored him. With his hands deep in the pockets of his black leather coat, Harold Rubin headed home, his long blond hair, worn in the duck's-ass style of Elvis Presley, brushing against his upraised collar. He decided to walk instead of taking the bus, because he wanted to avoid close contact with people, wanted no one to invade his privacy as he anxiously anticipated the hour at night when, after his parents had gone to sleep, he would be alone in his bedroom with Diane Webber.

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