Monday, July 15, 2013

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

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**


**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.

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.
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.

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.


  1. I don't think I'd like the novel, but I liked reading your view on it. It's true that male offenders are viewed rather differently than female offenders, but that's rather weird, I guess. I had a discussion about that with someone at work. A friend of mine was touched while on the train by a man she didn't know and she called me up crying. I told him about it and he said: "I wouldn't mind if a woman on the train would touch me".. I found that a strange reaction, but he thought all men would react that way..

  2. This is such a great review, Kathy! I've been on the fence about this book, but reading your review has made me want to read it. I'm super curious about this main character. I am looking forward to getting into her head.

  3. Excellent review Kat! I was anxious to read your experience with this book. Although I think we can all cite a few times where a female victim of sexual abuse/rape/assault was unfairly castigated in public for either how she dressed or having a pulse, your mention of how many female perpetrated sex crimes are rationalized the way they are is spot on. Again, save for the select few that overdo any astonishment on female-perpetrated crimes with their view of women being "passive, domestic moral angels" where men are supposed to be naturally wired so that they sometimes "can't help themselves".

    I also liked your mention about the teacher's own misogyny and cynicism where she mentions how once she ages, she will be of virtually no desire to men. Of course this can be said of a good number of non-perpetrator women who are just unfortunately overly critical both of themselves and especially other women. But this also shows, among other things, how aware she (and probably many other male and female perpetrators) is of her current desirability and power over young boys to do as she pleases. This is both disturbing and a lesson that these perpetrators, again male or female, know exactly what they are doing, who to target, and why, no matter how oblivious they act appear to be to outsiders. They are not tempted, nor provoked. Their moves, every single one of them, are calculated. Many years ago I read abuse victim and current activist's Sheldon Kennedy's book "Why I didn't Say Anything", where his perpetrator used the fact that he was this lonely gay guy hence why he abused a large number of 14 year old boys, and Kennedy shoots back with something along the lines of "it has nothing being gay [sexual urge], it's all about POWER." He was spot on. I was also glad that he debunked the stigma of gays in sports/coaching positions, but that's another subject.

    I am almost afraid to read this book, but GREATLY enjoyed your review of it. Your best one yet.

    Amy <3 :D

  4. I don't think this book will be to everyone's liking as it does deal with a touchy subject and is also very sexually explicit but I loved it so based on how much I enjoyed this very different book then I would urge others to give it a go.


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