Tampa by Alissa Nutting
Release Date – July 2, 2013
Publisher Website - Harper Collins
Publisher Social Media - Twitter/Facebook/SavvyReader
Pages - 272 pages
My Rating- 5/5
**obtained for review from publisher**
**ADULT CONTENT AND POSSIBLE SPOILERS**
**All Quotes Taken From Advance Reader Copy**
Here is the Goodreads synopsis
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.Lolita meets American Psycho. Those are what comes to mind whenever someone asks me to describe Tampa. It's an uncomfortable narration from the mind of someone who not only is aware of their misdeeds, but takes pleasure in them. This novel is as graphic as warned, as controversial as you're expecting, and yet surprising as well.
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.
Alissa Nutting's debut stunned me simply because it didn't read like a debut for me. It's carefully crafted, intelligent and woven in a complex way that brings the layers of the story together perfectly. The subtle satire, commentary and the fact that she makes you examine your own reactions to the story are just some of what makes Alissa's talent immediately evident.
Celeste is one of the most developed characters I've read in a while. Her voice is so resonate that she easily leaps off the page. I've read that people are made even more uncomfortable by Celeste because of how real she appears. I totally believe this. Alissa Nutting's depiction is distressing because Celeste causes us to examine things in society that we want to rationalize.
Even more distressing are those brief moments where Celeste shows you she's someone other than the monster inside. The brief moments where she makes you laugh. She has a dark sense of humor that will undoubtedly cause you to laugh uncomfortably. She also is keenly aware of her desires and the wrongness that exists in her. "At times, I wished that my genitals were prosthetic, something I could slip out of" she confesses at one point. It's this stark realization that offers a brief glimpse at a more complex, fully realized character that prevent her from becoming a caricature.
Contrasting this however is the side of her that doesn't care. Her predator side that runs on desire and instinct. Her reference to never having children because she didn't want to put herself in a position of having to resist if she had a son, the chillingly blunt declaration that closes out the novel, and the systematic way she goes about fulfilling her desires. To Celeste the only one who matters IS Celeste and everyone else is either in her way, or something to use and discard when no longer wanted.
Her narcissistic nature displays itself in her desire to be a yard stick of sorts for these young boys sexual future. She states
Like a tollbooth in his memory, every partner he'd have afterwards would have to pass through the gate of my comparison, and it would be a losing equation. The numbers could never be as favorable as they were right now, when his naivety would be subtracted from my experience to produce the largest sum of astonishment possible.She wants to be something they compare others to. She wants to stand out, be remembered. She says it would be a losing equation for the other girls. It's this narcissism that flows through the entire novel. The side characters, especially Jack Patrick, lack any definition. We barely learn anything about him or others. To Celeste he's simply a means to scratch her itch. She'll dispose of him once he's worn out his usefulness. It's this aspect that is brilliantly done by the author and reads like a deliberate choice considering the narrator. She lets you into Celeste's head, and every single detail is written what that in mind.
Society views this type of abuse a certain way. Female perpetrators are viewed different than male. The victims are also treated differently based on gender. Male teachers who abuse young female victims are immediately vilified. They are deemed to be exactly what they are - guilty of a crime. The wrongness of their actions is without question. The female victim is offered support, told that what happened was wrong and not her fault. It's a different story when reversed. Turn on any news report, view any online article dealing with female perpetrated crimes of this nature and you'll see a glaring difference. The male victim is often deemed "lucky" or something similar. Lascivious comments are made and often a refrain of "If she were my teacher I wouldn't be able to stay away either". The onus is put on the victim, the offender is almost made out to be a victim herself. This typically corresponds with declarations that she 'fell in love' and 'couldn't help herself'. Society expects that a female would only act this way out of some attachment and feelings. The entire notion of a female like Celeste doesn't cross many people's minds. This novel turns this idea on it's head, and makes you confront the reality head on. Female abusers do as much damage to their victims as male, and the male victims are just as violated as the young female victims. We as a society just haven't learned that yet.
There is also an undercurrent statement on women and how society views them. Celeste realizes that as she ages her desires are going to harder to sate.
There was no way for women, for anyone, to gracefully age. After a certain point, any detail like the woman's cheerleader hairstyle that implied youth simply looked ridiculous. Despite her athletic prowess, the jogger's cratered thighs seemed more like something that would die one day than something that would not. I didn't know how long I had before this window slammed down on my fingers as well - with diligence, and avoiding children, perhaps a decade. The older I became, the harder it would be to get what I wanted, but that was probably true of everyone with everything.This underlying sub commentary also ties in with the reaction to these types of cases. A young beautiful woman is desirable to men, therefore it's not considered abuse because what straight man wouldn't want to have sex with a beautiful, experienced woman. This fails to keep in mind that these are BOYS who are being taken advantage of by someone in a position of power. Her beauty should have nothing to do with it. I am curious, and this novel made me consider it, how society would react if the perpetrator was a woman who wasn't conventionally attractive.
Is this novel for everyone? No, of course not. I do think that anyone who thinks they'll be okay with the subject matter should pick it up. Alissa Nutting has made an immediate fan out of me. Tampa is controversial, hard to read, and will make you squirm. The message it delivers is an important one however, and any conversation it brings forth is definitely needed. A brilliantly written, unflinching look inside the mind of a female sociopath who stays with you long after you've read this short, unputdownable book.