Review: Tampa by Alissa Nutting

Tampa by Alissa NuttingCeleste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She is attractive. She drives a red Corvette. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed and devoted to her. But Celeste has a secret. She has a singular sexual obsession – fourteen-year-old boys.

It is a craving she pursues with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought. Within weeks of her first term at a new school, Celeste has lured the charmingly modest Jack Patrick into her web – car rides after dark, rendezvous at Jack’s house while his single father works the late shift, and body-slamming encounters in Celeste’s empty classroom between periods. It is bliss.

Celeste must constantly confront the forces threatening their affair – the perpetual risk of exposure, Jack’s father’s own attraction to her, and the ticking clock as Jack leaves innocent boyhood behind. But the insatiable Celeste is remorseless. She deceives everyone, is close to no one and cares little for anything but her pleasure.

With crackling, stampeding, rampantly sexualized prose, Tampa is a grand, satirical, serio-comic examination of desire and a scorching literary debut.

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Review

Tampa is one more book to add to my list of I don’t know what to make of it reads. Throughout I tended to veer between being disgruntled and enjoyment. This isn’t an easy story to swallow, no pun intended, and I don’t use the term enjoyment in a way I reserve for other books.

With the first third of Tampa I was considering each scene was written to shock rather than to convey a message or question a taboo subject, but when I reached the second third my perspective changed. I’ve read stories intended to shock, written with langauge, and scenes, containing such vulgar and lewd descriptions it’s hard not to become desensitised after a certain amount of pages. Reading material after those stories are tame by comparison.

It was the lack of aggressive shock tactics that eventually changed my mind. Don’t get me wrong, the carnal desires and fantasies the protagonist imagines and indulges doesn’t stop. She is either always engaging in some way or entwining her fantasies of adolescent boys into every interaction and action she takes away from them. It really drives home how much her focus is on feeding her need to take advantage of innocent young boys, but that doesn’t mean Tampa is meant to shock.

The second third of the book had me wondering about character development. Celeste does not grow. At first this bothered me due to being so used to one of story tellings basics; have a character learn and develop after a pivotal occurrence in their story. Although Celeste may learn from a few mistakes, her caution is apparent throughout and overall she does not change. Her convictions and sense of self remains the same.

I realised what was happening, Celeste couldn’t grow or change thanks to her insatiable need and psychopathic character, but the side characters were able to grow. When I finally accepted the inevitability of Celeste remaining the same, I began to enjoy Tampa for what it was. A story based from a hebephile’s point of view. I marvelled at how Nutting was able to make use of the side characters to further divide Celeste from average human reality and compassion with her victim’s displays of innocence ruined. As well as her husband’s desperate need to blanket himself in denial.

By the last third of Tampa I was out of sorts again and this lands me to where I am now. I’m not sure how I feel about Tampa. I’m not sure if I actually like the story or if I’ve been blinded by the subject and can’t see the forest for the trees. The ending felt flat. I can understand it though; the need to show just how much Celeste doesn’t change, but I don’t know. It all seems so unresolved and unfulfilled.

I know one thing, Tampa was very easy to read regardless of the content, regardless of how horrible Celeste really is, and regardless of how much she could get away with. Easy, well written, and dare I say punctuated with humour. I admit it, I chuckled a few times. I couldn’t help it, the descriptions were great. They were colourful and got to the heart of the scene or character in the moment. This is how I enjoyed the story. The use of words, the ability to create an unpleasant character that’s readable without the need to manipulate me over to Celeste’s side. I may not know how I feel about Tampa, but I do know I am impressed with Alissa Nutting’s story telling

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2 thoughts on “Review: Tampa by Alissa Nutting

  1. I’m glad you shared your thoughts about this book. Victimization of children (or anyone) is not my type of entertainment, but I appreciate honest reviews. I hope “Tampa” finds its audience.

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