Tampa by Alissa Nutting | Review

Posted February 8, 2015 by Tara in Review /// 7 Comments

Tampa by Alissa Nutting | ReviewTampa Narrator: Kathleen McInerney
Published by Ecco on 2013
Genres: Adult, Literary
Pages: 272
Length: 8:21
Format: audiobook
Source: Purchased from Audible.com

Celeste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She's undeniably attractive. She drives a red Corvette with tinted windows. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed, and devoted to her.

But Celeste's devotion lies elsewhere. She has a singular sexual obsession—fourteen-year-old boys. Celeste pursues her craving with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought; her sole purpose in becoming a teacher is to fulfill her passion and provide her access to her compulsion. As the novel opens, fall semester at Jefferson Jr. High is beginning.

In mere weeks, Celeste has chosen and lured the lusciously naive Jack Patrick into her web. Jack is enthralled and in awe of his teacher, and, most important, willing to accept Celeste's terms for a secret relationship—car rides after school; rendezvous at Jack's house while his single father works late; body-slamming encounters in Celeste's empty classroom between periods.

Ever mindful of the danger—the perpetual risk of exposure, Jack's father's own attraction to her, and the ticking clock as Jack leaves innocent boyhood behind—the hyperbolically insatiable Celeste bypasses each hurdle with swift thinking and shameless determination, even when the solutions involve greater misdeeds than the affair itself. In slaking her sexual thirst, Celeste Price is remorseless and deviously free of hesitation, a monstress driven by pure motivation. She deceives everyone, and cares nothing for anyone or anything but her own pleasure.

With crackling, rampantly unadulterated prose, Tampa is a grand, uncompromising, seriocomic examination of want and a scorching literary debut.

This book made me want to take a shower, which must mean that it is brilliant.

I was a little uneasy about reading Tampa because the subject matter hits to close to home. What would people think about me, a female middle school teacher, reading a book about a female pedophile teacher? I mean, that suggestive cover alone makes this a difficult book to read in public. But I made the sacrifice because, let’s face it, sometimes I find some sort of grand satisfaction in reading about completely vile human beings in literature.

My feelings about the book are mixed, so this review will look at my initial reactions (disgusted, but impressed) and then my reaction after processing the novel (less impressed) and then my reaction after processing the novel even more (impressed, but with reservations).

While Reading/Immediately After Reading  There is no way around it: Celeste is a horrible person. She is a predator. She is an unlikable protagonist and that’s how’s she’s written. The fact that I wanted to take a shower after reading the book shows just how effectively Alissa Nutting wrote Celeste’s character. There is something somewhat satisfying and fascinating in reading about horrible, horrible people. It’s like a reminder that I’m glad I’m not a sociopath while still enjoying the peak inside the brain of someone who is one.

After Processing a Bit  My initial reaction to the novel was to give it five stars for being gripping, fascinating, and horrifying. however, I let the story sink in a bit and a few major things jumped out at me. First, I do have some issues with some of the writing. In particular, the CONSTANT use of the word penis. I couldn’t decide if this was perfect or tedious. In the end, I do think it was a specific, deliberate decision on Nutting’s part, but I found it rather annoying. The audiobook narrator, Kathleen McInerney, just said the world penis in such an annoying, obnoxious way that I found myself begging Celeste to expand her vocabulary a bit. I guess sex-obsessed sociopaths only have one thing on their minds, and the use of varied, appealing terms is not part of the equation (more on that later!). More than just this one word, I also realized that it seems very unrealistic that Celeste would be so singularly focused. Like, she has zero interests outside of bedding 14-year-old boys. She only thinks about sex, the pursuit of sex, the memories of sex, etc. Even her own vanity is just a way of assuring that she’ll look young enough to remain attractive to adolescents. I was a bit bothered that Celeste’s character ended up as a one-dimensional caricature.

After Processing Even More  Further reflection, and reading about the real-life case of Debra LaFave (upon whom this book is loosely based) forced me to think more deeply about the feminist angles of Tampa. If men can be vile people in literature, why does it bother us so much when a woman is a vile character? More than that, why does society treat male pedophiles differently than female pedophiles? Nutting herself notes that the novel is designed to show the hypocrisy that the American public and, indeed, Debra LaFave’s jury at her trial, employ when positioning women in these cases. Thinking about this, I completely understand why Nutting had to write Celeste the way she did — a sympathetic, complex character was not going to drive the point home as a much as a cold-blooded predator. So even though I still feel like the writing was missing something (I’m not sure what — eloquence? Depth?) to drive that point home more effectively, I did walk away thinking about this hypocrisy in a new light.

FINAL GRADE: B

Clearly Tampa is a book that made me think. A lot. So even though I ended up settling on a B rating, due to some of the flaws in the writing mentioned above, the ideas this brings up made it a memorable read. I don’t think I’ll be forgetting Celeste’s character any time soon (much like Amy in Gone Girl and Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin).

TL;DR: Horrible people are fascinating. This book is fascinating. Read this book if you can stomach the horrible!

 

Tara

Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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7 responses to “Tampa by Alissa Nutting | Review

  1. I read this book last year, and I pretty much share your sentiment. I just can’t believe how unapologetic she was, and she kept going on along as if she didn’t spend any time in jail.

  2. I think that the problem with literary novels (especially ones that exercise social commentary) is that often the characters with an agenda tend to be flat, one-dimensional characters. I also think that a lot of the book was exaggerated, overtly so, to prove Nutting’s point about gender and paedophilia and I guess to make it obvious?
    I’m curious about Tampa a) Um sociapaths are incredibly entertaining to read about b) what Nutting explores with this one sounds pretty intriguing.
    And you’re right.
    That book is certainly not one I’d be happy to read (or even show) in public. 🙂

  3. I haven’t read Tampa, but have heard enough about it that the though of actually picking it up (that cover!) and reading it makes me very, very uneasy. But still want to read it… I think… at some point. (and then it will probably be the ebook, listening to this on audio doesn’t sound like something I could bear)

  4. I read this book last year and LOVED it. One of the issues I did have with it though was that it seemed like the author put sex scenes in the book just for shock value. I didn’t have a problem with the sex per se, especially given the subject matter, but I just think she had way too many sex scenes in the book. It got a bit annoying. But all in all, still an amazing book. Loved it!

  5. First, a random q. Have you read Unteachable by Leah Raeder? It’s in the NA category, but though I haven’t read Tampa, I’ve heard of it and what I’ve heard makes me think it might go well as a discussion pair with Unteachable. Anywho.

    “sometimes I find some sort of grand satisfaction in reading about completely vile human beings in literature.” — Too true! And not just for me in literature. (though in lit, if they’re *too* disgusting, I have a much much harder time *continuing* to read that book to the end).

    “My feelings about the book are mixed, so this review will look at my initial reactions (disgusted, but impressed) and then my reaction after processing the novel (less impressed) and then my reaction after processing the novel even more (impressed, but with reservations).” — Hahaha, this sounds wonderful. I love books that can inspire such a range of emotions as you think about them.

    “First, I do have some issues with some of the writing. In particular, the CONSTANT use of the word penis. I couldn’t decide if this was perfect or tedious. In the end, I do think it was a specific, deliberate decision on Nutting’s part, but I found it rather annoying.” — But what should she have said? Eek, I guess using other words would play into the teacher potentially talking dirty to the kid but penis also sounds so crude if used over and over (to me at least), though I definitely sympathize with what you’re saying on the audiobook narrator. Sometimes a narrator can just ruin a word :O.

    “More than just this one word, I also realized that it seems very unrealistic that Celeste would be so singularly focused. Like, she has zero interests outside of bedding 14-year-old boys. She only thinks about sex, the pursuit of sex, the memories of sex, etc. Even her own vanity is just a way of assuring that she’ll look young enough to remain attractive to adolescents. I was a bit bothered that Celeste’s character ended up as a one-dimensional caricature.” — Interesting point. I feel like this happens a lot when authors are portraying sociopaths. A lot of villains end up feeling one-dimensional because they’re obsessive about an almost inane goal…

    “If men can be vile people in literature, why does it bother us so much when a woman is a vile character? More than that, why does society treat male pedophiles differently than female pedophiles?” — such a good point! I see here at the bottom that you’ve read Gone Girl. So, I saw the movie with some coworkers and one of them said that she was worried that people would judge Amy more harshly than Nick, and that is exactly what a couple of our fellow coworkers have done, despite the fact that they are both terrible people.

  6. The prospect of reading this seems absolutely terrifying. But somehow it intrigues me. I guess characters like this are going to seem one-dimensional sometimes, because they do have obsessive thoughts. That’s what pedophilia is: a type of obsessive compulsive disorder (among other things). I’m interested in reading this from the psychological point of view and also from a feminist one – why do female characters like this are somehow more taboo to us than the males? It’s certainly a book that brings forth a lot of discussion topics.
    Great review.

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