Tampa – Alissa Nutting
Publisher: Faber (UK), Ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins (US)
Release Date: ebook out now, paperback out on 1 August 2013 (UK)
Synopsis: Celeste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She is attractive. She drives a red Corvette. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed and devoted to her. But Celeste has a secret. She has a singular sexual obsession – fourteen-year-old boys. It is a craving she pursues with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought.
Within weeks of her first term at a new school, Celeste has lured the charmingly modest Jack Patrick into her web – car rides after dark, rendezvous at Jack’s house while his single father works the late shift, and body-slamming encounters in Celeste’s empty classroom between periods. It is bliss.
Celeste must constantly confront the forces threatening their affair – the perpetual risk of exposure, Jack’s father’s own attraction to her, and the ticking clock as Jack leaves innocent boyhood behind. But the insatiable Celeste is remorseless. She deceives everyone, is close to no one and cares little for anything but her pleasure.
With crackling, stampeding, rampantly sexualized prose, Tampa is a grand, satirical, serio-comic examination of desire and a scorching literary debut.
When I heard about Tampa through the grapevine (Twitter, of course) I knew this was a book I needed to get my hands on and review. This was going to be a global book, a book that everyone was going to be talking about in hushed whispers because, let’s face it, the subject matter is beyond scandalous but there’s no way you cannot talk about this book.
At age 14 I tried to check the classic Lolita out from the public library. I wasn’t a pervert in training but I had a “thing” for banned books. My grandmother stopped me and I had to wait another two years before I was able to be shocked by Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert. Lolita, having read it again recently, is not nearly as vulgar or shocking as I perceived it to be at 16. Perhaps it was the thrill of finally getting to read the book?
Tampa is like Lolita on Viagra. Or the female equivalent of the little blue pill, since we’re talking about a female paedophile here. From the first page I was both horrified and jealous (of Nutting, not Celeste!!). To be able to write like Nutting, to put things out there so bluntly as if to say “here you go, chew on that and deal with it”… well that’s something I wish I could do. And to be able to hook readers, to make them actively think about your book while they’re not reading it? That takes talent, particularly given the graphic, unseemly sexual nature.
Celeste is one of those characters I just couldn’t like, and to be fair I don’t think you’re meant to given her sexual proclivities. She’s unapologetic, she doesn’t make excuses for her behaviour. She simply is who she is and she doesn’t struggle with that. Celeste is not out to find love with teenage boys, she’s not interested in a relationship–for her it’s all about the sex. She’s a full on predator—manipulative, repulsive and constantly scheming.
Yes, I gave Tampa a five out of five, and it deserves it. The book was provocative, well written and scarily addictive—all things that make a good read.
I could talk about this book for days… and boy is the press going to have fun with this one. Living in the UK, where from next year you’ll have to “opt in” to be able to view adult content online (don’t get me started), I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a backlash against books like Tampa, despite the clever writing and addictive prose. I can only hope that people will look past the “shock factor” of a female teacher seducing teenage boys and will appreciate Nutting’s narrative and, well, fearlessness.
What a ride.