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.

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