Brief Book Review: ‘Tampa’ by Alissa Nutting

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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.

Whilst I understood the narrative, the themes and the points raised within the text, it nonetheless left me confused. Some reviews described the graphic descriptions in  this book as erotica. I disagree. This book is not in the slightest bit erotic. There is nothing remotely alluring or erotic in Celeste’s sick fantasies or the detailed descriptions of the sex scenes. The desire Celeste has for teenage boys is simply too inconceivable. Positively baffling.

This book has left me feeling conflicted and, I believe, this is what makes it so good. it will leave ypu with doubts and questions. You will be mentally haunted by this book. Perplexed confusion is the strongest emotional reaction I had to this book. This, I think, is due to the media/societal norms/advertising. Like most, I could better understand a lecherous older man’s interest in teenaged girls than the situation in reverse (though both disgust me equally.) How often are younger women viewed as more desirable? How often is it men who are depicted as the dominant ones? It is far more common. This book certainly flips gender roles and stereotypes on their head.

Despite being told in the first person POV by Celeste, you are not treated to any understanding of where her singularly obsessive sexual compulsion comes from, other than the fact she is clearly a sociopath. This, I think, is Nutting’s intention. Celeste is the kind of cold, calculating predator no one believes a woman capable of being. It makes her light sentance, given because she is an attractive woman (and how could sex with an attractive woman be rape?), seem all the more apalling. It’s appalling but it is also very accurate social commentary. How often is violence and sexual assault towards men taken seriously when the abuser is a woman? And how often is it taken seriously is the abuser is an extremely attractive woman?

‘Tampa’ also gives a perplexing view into how statutory rape is complex and different from rape in general. Celeste’s victims do give consent. They want her throughout the book, along with their peers, and they state at her trial they were willing. Which they were, but they were also manipulated, stalked and used to satisfy Celeste’s selfish, obsessive desires. One victim in particular was clearly left confused and destroyed by his involvement with Celeste. It is easy to see why, even with consent, sex with a minor, even if they are a teenager, is illegal. They aren’t mature or in control enough to protect themselves or to understand when they’re being abused. They have only the illusion of being in control or consenting. In reality they have been stalked and carefully selected for their weaknesses (being quieter, shyer, having less involved parents.)

Overall, this is an intriguing read. Do not expect to understand Celeste. Unlike HH in Lolita, and many real-life pedophiles, Celeste does not try to convince herself or the reader at any point that she actually cares for or “loves” her victims.
This book is quite graphic and disturbing, so definitely not recommended for the squeamish.
To purchase an ebook version, follow the link here.

The Blog Hop: Absurdly Honest Answers

I was tagged to answer the following four questions by Mandi.

What are you working on?
I am currently working on putting together a collection of short stories that will be self-published via Smashwords. I am also, privately, working on something else that is outside my usual genre, but this is currently Top Secret. I’m a little timid about sharing the details of it just now.

How does your work differ from others in the genre?
The stories in Behind Closed Doors don’t necessarily link up in terms of genre and theme like many do in anthologies and short story collections. What they have in common is more obscure. The best way of describing it is we all have acquaintances in life, people we smile at and say hello to, but don’t really know. We don’t know what’s going on in their lives, what struggles they might be enduring, what experiences they may have had, what secrets they are keeping. That’s the theme of this collection: the things going on behind closed doors, the unspoken stuff happening in people’s lives.

Why do you write what you write?
If you asked me why I write in general it would be easier to answer. In general, I write because I am compelled to do so. I write because, rather than having to find my writer’s voice, writing is my voice. As Mandi pointed out, I am terribly shy. I am not an excellent talker. Small talk has a way of making my throat close up. But why do I write the things I do? I think it’s because I have something to say, something to share and to show. I enjoy writing non-fiction and short stories mostly. I love non-fiction because I can share people’s stories. I have been doing ghostwriting lately and that is very rewarding. It makes a real difference to people’s lives to tell their stories and, given the subject, it can help others in their own struggles.

How does your writing process work?
I usually just start writing because of something I have seen or heard, or a thought or idea has come to me. Once I have a page or a few pages down then I stop and this is when I start planning. I plot out character maps, themes, the story arc and where I see it going. I do any research that is needed. I try not to make it too specific to allow for natural character growth and room to move the story where I feel it needs to go. Often halfway through writing new developments will crop up and usually I will go with these because they are more natural to the story and the characters development.

Finally, I nominate Jessi Tait (at innerminute) whose writing style I both admire and envy in equal parts.