Review: Tampa by Alissa Nutting

July 2, 2013 Literary Fiction, Review 10

  • Hardcover: 272 Pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (July 2, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0062280546
  • Source: Publisher

Celeste Price is a middle-school teacher in Tampa, FL.  She chose this career so she could have what she desired most right at her fingertips: young boys in their early teens. Starting in her own teen years, Celeste realized that she had a sexual desire that was more intense than most others. She married a police officer who came from money so she could afford to keep her body looking young by using expensive beauty products and undergoing a number of skin treatments.  She had no attraction to her husband; their sex life was nearly nonexistent. His shift at work prevented them from spending much time together.  When he was home, she drugged him so he would fall asleep, preventing any sort of intimate contact.

As the school year begins, Celeste begins hunting for her prey.  She needs someone that is sort of a loner, too modest to share their indiscretions with anyone, one who has parents that won’t pick up on what is transpiring.  This year, her victim is 14 year-old Jack Patrick, an attractive and modest student in her English class.  It takes some time for her to transform their relationship into more than it is, more than it should be.  When it begins, however, the intensity of their tryst is off the charts. Don’t let Celeste force you to believe she is in this for a romantic relationship for that is far from her intent.  She is in it for the sex, manipulating those around her in a terrifyingly psychopathic manner.  She takes numerous risks, always with an excuse planned in her mind should they ever get caught. Yet what she didn’t take into consideration is how Jack felt about her and what he would do to protect their relationship.

Tampa is by far one of the hardest books I have ever reviewed. The whole premise of this book is vile to me, a mother of a teen boy. The author does not hold back with the explicitness of Jack and Celeste’s sexual exploits. Doing so would diminish Celeste’s obvious sickness. One might ask why I opted to continue to read this book after learning the presence.  Frankly, because the writing is brilliant.  Nutting builds such an elaborate and atypical female protagonist. In most cases, when we read of such sexual behavior the main character is a male.  Not necessarily in the same circumstance as this novel, but when we do read about it, we don’t attribute any feelings of disgust or shock to that character.  What Nutting has done is put a female protagonist in this role, giving readers a unique female perspective on sexual addiction.

It is impossible to review this title without talking about the book’s cover as well. It is dark and simple, covered in a black velvet that at first feels lush, making you want to touch and stroke the book. As you read, however, that soft fabric begins to feel quite vile and disgusting. Much like Celeste’s character (a woman that is incredibly beautiful on the surface, a woman any man would desire), the reader’s opinion quickly shifts as more is revealed.  It is certainly the most interesting (and successful!) bit of book marketing I have ever experienced.

This is not a book that I can recommend to just anyone. It does require a strong stomach and an ability to look beyond the story on the surface to get through to the message the author is trying to relay.  I tend to think I have a pretty strong stomach. I’m a fan of horror movies and books and in most cases, I can stomach anything.  This novel, however, was my true nemesis, one of the biggest challenges I have ever accomplished. It took me several breaks, putting the book completely out of my line of sight for several days, before I was able to pick it up again. Therefore, this (I hesitate to say positive) review comes with a big bright warning label with flashing lights: While this is a book that everyone will be talking about, if you don’t think you can stomach it, do not attempt it. This is a book that lingers with you, you will be unable to unsee (or unread) what transpires within its pages.  However, if you are able to separate the incredibly explicit actions in this book from the true intent of this story, I promise you will see through the dark and the vile and will appreciate this novel for its brilliance.

10 Responses to “Review: Tampa by Alissa Nutting”

  1. rhond

    Brilliant review book is hard at times to read but hard to put down with in the past few weeks 2 female teachers were arrested for sexual acts with their teen students a lot of this book is sadly real life

  2. Krista

    I saw your conversation on twitter and had to pop over out of pure interest to see what book you were discussing. I have to say that I would also have a hard time reviewing a book that is so unconventional and a very hard subject to write a book about.
    I had a hard enough time reading Tabitha Suzuma- Forbidden *YA novel when it was released about incest. Very hard topics to tackle and you’d have to get it just right.
    I think you handled the review well 🙂

  3. dog eared copy/Tanya
    Twitter: dogearedcopy

    I’m having a very similar reaction to Lamb (by Bonnie Nazdam) which is about a pedophile and an eleven-year old girl. The writing is very good, but the protagonist is awful and the author got some leverage on me as I’m the mother of a ten-year old girl. Of course, this brings up the Messud issue about likable characters; but as I try to formulate my own quick & dirty review for Lamb, I’m having a hard time divorcing the author from her work and from myself as a reader :-/

    Anyway, your review is great! It gives me just enough information to determine whether or not this is a “Buy” for me. It’s been on my radar for a few weeks and it was actually on the top of my list for purchase; but I have to be honest, I don’t think this is a book for me. I hate to admit that there are places I don’t want to go literarily speaking; but this one of them.

  4. dog eared copy/Tanya
    Twitter: dogearedcopy

    I just realized that the first paragraph of my comment really makes no sense at all! So let’s just say I’m having a hell of a time writing a review for a book that is similar in nature to TAMPA!

  5. Jen - Devourer of Books
    Twitter: devourerofbooks

    Well, you know I agree with you, insanely, terribly disturbing, but so, so brilliant. Reading your review I realized that, in some ways, Tampa is a lot like Gone Girl, allowing for a truly evil and pathological woman that seem so much more disturbing to most readers than an evil and pathological man. The issue of female sexuality and agency is something I thought a lot about while reading, that we would be disgusted by these acts coming from a man, but not in the same way that we are when a woman commits them. I can vouch for that in myself because I recently read Kris Riggle’s upcoming The Whole Golden World which also deals with a teacher-student relationship. She doesn’t describe it in graphic detail like Nutting does, the student is older (a high school senior), and the teacher seems more simply narcissistic than psychopathic like Celeste, but I still think the biggest factor in my level of disgust may have been the gender of the perpetrators, and I think that is true for many people. To me this says some really interesting things about society.

  6. Anita
    Twitter: anitalovesbooks

    I’ve been hearing so much about this book in bits and pieces on twitter that I must say I want to know more. The nook sample was disturbing, but well written. As a society we are more shocked at female sexual predators. Certainly all adults who seek out children are disturbing, but this well planned, detailed plotting for her prey is new. We(in general) do not think of women in this way.
    Wonderful review,I’ll let you know my thoughts.

  7. Rita

    I had never heard of this book before your review, and thank you for such a detailed and informative one. I think people should note that this book’s plot is “ripped from the headlines” as they say on that tv show, because I used to live near Tampa, and there was an “epidemic” for lack of a better word, of female teachers arrested for sex with underage boys (and some girls). Google it and you will see, this is all too real. Because I listened to the stories on the news when they happened I don’t think I can stomach this book and think of it as not being real. This is only my opinion of course, I understand that the writing may be brilliant. Thanks again for another great review.

  8. nfmgirl

    I received this book as well. I expect it will be pretty distasteful at time. Thanks for the great review!

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