Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tampa (Alissa Nutting)

Tampa was one of the most-talked about books of 2013 simply because of its subject matter--it's the story of a female teacher preying on her eighth-grade male students. On Goodreads, it has a 3.27 average rating, and I can't help but feel that the poor reception is simply a knee-jerk reaction of disgust and moral superiority. I'm going to be real with you, this book was good, even if it did gross me out.

Celeste Price has designed her entire life around getting access to teenage boys. She is an eighth-grade teacher who has married into a rich family so she can afford all the best  youth treatments to stay attractive and young. When the first day of class hits, her body aches, aflame with desire for some new meat, and as her trailer-classroom fills up with pubescent boys, her hunt begins.

This book has been getting a lot of comparison to Lolita, but I think that's a bit too obvious, so I'm going to steer clear of such comparisons. Celeste is one of the most disgusting, horrifying, interesting characters I've ever read. She is a mash-up of every truly nightmarish woman out there, feasting simultaneously on naivete, virginal innocence and mommy issues. She doesn't feel in the way that normal humans do, nothing several times in the narrative that she has to consciously inflect her voice to provide a socially acceptable reaction (and she makes these comments offhandedly, which is just one of the many facets of Nutting's genius).

Our narrator is very devious, taking a lot of measures to ensure she never gets caught. The amount of careful planning she lays out before beginning her adolescent affair is frightening, like a terrorist planning a massive, devastating attack. And perhaps that's what it is, on a tiny scale: Celeste knows exactly how damaging her flings will be for her teen boy victims, and even that turns her on.

I haven't even mentioned the sex yet. Because it is graphic, it is nasty, and it is ever-present. Seriously, if you're going to be put off by descriptions of a 14-year-old squirming in pleasure, stay away from this novel. Of course it's disgusting, but rendered through the eyes of Mrs. Price, it too is fascinating. There's a meticulous sense of cataloging in the way she describes her interactions with boys, every thrust and lick carefully noted for later.

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that Celeste is a beautiful woman. I think it's fair to say our collective mental image of a pedophile is a gross 55-year-old man with a mustache; Nutting really forces us to think about what is a victim, what is rape and consent, and if we can accept a deviant in the form of a woman. This woman's skill at self-preservation and insatiable sexual appetite are disgusting, of course, but they're also captivating--the main character of Tampa is as alluring to read about as she thinks she is to her young students.

If your brain shuts down at the thought of reading anything weird or gross or wrong, don't even bother picking up a copy. But if you want to spend some time in the mind of one of the most deranged, interesting characters out there, pick up Alissa Nutting's debut immediately.

My rating: 5/5
Tampa on Goodreads
See what I've been reading lately!

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