Author: Alissa Nutting
272 pages, Published by Ecco
Buy The Book: Amazon
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. (Summary provided by Ecco/HarperCollins.)
I first heard about the novel Tampa by Alissa Nutting on Twitter. Rebecca Schinsky ( Book Riot, Food Riot and Bookrageous) and Josh Christie (co-founder of Bookrageous) among others were discussing the book on Twitter and it sounded scandalous. Scandalous in a thought provoking, OMG this book is going to be the most controversial book of the summer kind of way. As I am a regular Bookrageous listener and respect their book recommendations, I put in a request for an ARC.
For a while the ARC sat in my TBR stack taunting me. Literally, I felt like Alice hanging out in Wonderland with a book tagged read me. I wanted to read it, but due to the subject matter (child molestation) I had to put on my brave pants and just read it. I read Tampa and it was like ripping off a band-aid. Nutting’s writing is powerful and her portrait of Celeste, a teacher who is only sexually attracted to young boys on the cusp of puberty, is a look into the mind of a predator, a female pedophile.
I can’t remember reading a book with a female pedophile character. This book fills a gaping hole in the way female predators are portrayed. The graphic subject matter told through the mind of deranged Celeste is incredibly disturbing. The readers see the sexual encounters Celeste has with two young boys, her students, through her POV. The scenes are described in a titillating manner, because Celeste does not consider what she’s doing to be wrong. The sex scenes with the young boys are hard to read. However, it’s because of these graphic descriptions and Celeste’s inner monologue that the reader is able to understand the brutality and traumatizing nature of Celeste’s actions with the boys.
In addition to the disturbing subject matter Nutting even manages to add dark humor into the mix. I would find myself laughing at one of Celeste’s very messed up thoughts or predicaments and think to myself this is so not funny. However, the moments actually are funny, and I’m impressed with Nutting’s ability to simultaneously disgust and amuse readers.
Here’s a graphic I created to record my reactions as I read Tampa. See the rest of my review below the graphic.
I was fascinated by why Nutting chose to write Tampa. I read in a Cosmopolitan interview that the author attended high school with Debra LeFave, the infamous “hot child predator.” We had a situation like this in our community in 2008. One of my family members went to high school with a female teacher who molested a young boy, and she only received one year in jail (seven years with six suspended). Coincidentally, she lives in my neighborhood. Much like the LeFave case, this teacher was beautiful and the case attracted a lot of attention. My reason for reading the book was a bit similar to Nutting’s spark of inspiration (LeFave and a lack of female sexual predators in literature) for writing it. When the incident in our community happened I was a new mom with a baby boy. The thought of a teacher molesting him scared me to death when I saw the coverage on the news. The thought how could a woman do this went through my head more than once. That was my impetus for finally opening the pages of Tampa. I wanted to get a glimpse into the mindset of a woman who could do something so sickening. I feel like Nutting captured the possible inner monologue of someone who is cable of a crime like this well. Tampa is the book people will be talking about this summer. Don’t get left out of the conversation.
FYI: Tampa was a Rumpus Book Club pick. I read both the ARC and the finished copy (it has a fuzzy book jacket) thanks to The Rumpus. Click here for more information about The Rumpus Book Club. Here is a link to The Rumpus’ interview with Alissa Nutting. Largehearted Boy linked to a pretty awesome interview of Alissa Nutting as well.
FTC Disclosure: The publisher provided me with a copy of the book mentioned, and I receive a small commission on all purchases made through using the Amazon links on this site.
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