Before I start to go into detail about Alissa Nutting’s debut novel, this has to be said. This novel is not for the shy reader, if you are somewhat of a sexual prude and cringe and the thought of even the word “vagina” being read then do not read this book!
Tampa is the story of Celeste Price an 8th grade high school English Teacher in Tampa. Celeste on the surface has it all, she is devastatingly attractive, smart, wealthy and has a doting cop husband. But Celeste has a deep dark secret, she has a painfully strong sexual desire for 14 year old boys. Throughout the novel Celeste ruthlessly manipulates several of her 14 year old boy students into bed. Celeste is obsessed with having sex with these boys, when she’s not having sex with them in a classroom or car, she’s masturbating on her school desk about having sex with 14 year old boys. She will do anything to appease her sexual needs. It consumes her and she doesn’t care.
The main issue that Tampa explores is the current gender view on sexual relationships. Loosely inspired by Nutting’s fellow high school pupil Debra Lafave who was convicted of having sex with 14 year old boys, and famously dodged serving any prison time as she was labelled “too pretty for prison”.
Tampa is written from the perspective of Celeste, so the reader gets a graphic, perverted and sociopathic insight into her attitude and behaviour, and believe me she is nothing less than a sociopath. Whilst reading this book, as a reader you will experience outrage that society and the law would allow Celeste (and Lafave) to not serve any prison time due to her appearance.
Tampa reminds us of the issue that society still makes the assumption and generalisation that women are the passive aggressive gender, and males are the aggressors. Society still finds it hard to imagine a woman sexually abusing a male, granted it doesn’t happen a lot, but it STILL happens.
If a 14 year old girl was sexually abused by a male teacher, he would be described as a raping pedophile that sickeningly manipulates a passive victim with no sexuality of her own being used. However if we flip this around like in Tampa, questions and doubts are raised – “Is this not the perfect teen male fantasy?”, “He must of wanted in some sort of way?”. The media tends to blanket over the mental and emotional manipulation and focusing on the physical abuse instead.
I have to admit that the language and the graphical content left me uncomfortable throughout the novel and I constantly found myself thinking “what the actual fuck am I reading? Am I sociopath for even reading this?”, but I personally feel that this was Nutting’s intention, to make you fully realise Celeste’s animalistic and disgusting appetite for prepubescent 14 year old boys. Celeste needs to be a monster and a sexual predator to show that it is possible for women to be monsters and that they go unfairly unpunished due to just being a female.
I read quite a few reviews on this book before I wrote this, and I noticed that a lot of people were comparing it to that of Lolita. I don’t think these books can even be closely compared as they explore completely different views on society. In Lolita you feel slight sympathy to Humbert as he loved Lolita. I can guarantee that you will feel no sympathy towards Celeste as she is no way in this for love, she is purely driven by the thought of sex. This is not a novel about love or romance, Nutting makes no attempt to convince the reader that Celeste is in this for an emotional reward, it is just sex with 14 year old boys.
It’s not the greatest of novels but i’ll give Nutting credit, it is a very brave first novel and explores issues that haven’t been fully addressed. Also, the book is sickeningly funny in a ridiculous crude way.
P.s. Maybe purchase as an e-book as the front cover of the book just reminds everyone of a vagina and I found it quite hard to cover with my hands on the train to work.