Title: Tampa (Goodreads)
Author: Alissa Nutting
Published: Allen & Unwin, 2013
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley, ARC from Publisher
Buy: Amazon, Book Depository, Kindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)
Suburban middle grade teacher Celeste Prices is undeniably beautiful, everyone can see that. Her husband is rich, hardworking, determined and most people think they are the perfect couple. That’s because no one knows Celesta’s secret, her singular sexual obsession for fourteen year old boys. After all this is the real reason she became a teacher and is working at Jefferson Jr. High.
There are three main reasons people will try to avoid this book. Firstly the protagonist is not likeable, how could she be? Secondly, the sad truth is I found a lot of people tend to avoid Juvenalian satire; I’m not entirely sure why but maybe they don’t appreciate it or they forget to remember it is not an indication of the satirist persona. Lastly and probably most importantly, this book is disturbing; probably the most disconcerting book I’ve ever read (American Psycho held this place for a long time) and I found myself having to put it down just to recover.
So why read it? Tampa is a well written debut novel and arguably one of the most talked about novels at the moment. The reason it’s talked about is the subject it satirises; let’s face it, this is a topic that is often never talked about because of its disturbing nature. A female sexual predator is something I’ve never read in a book but this seems to works in Alissa Nutting’s favour. I have to take a moment to talk about the subject matter because this is important. Young teenage boys all seem to have similar fantasies; an older woman, normally a teacher or a babysitter. It’s a common sexual desire for a boy with their budding sexuality; the experienced, already developed older woman, but they don’t realise just how destructive that can be on them. They have no idea how to separate their emotions from the sexual act and this is a slippery slope that can only lead to being hurt. Not to mention the emotional and psychological damage it can do to them.
Then you have the discussion of sexual addiction being covered in this novel as well. Celeste Prices acts with sociopathic meticulousness; lying and manipulating everyone in order to get what she desires. Not just the people around her; she deludes herself as well, always trying to justify her actions. I think it was interesting how Alissa Nutting was able to look at the problems with this fantasy young boys have and how damaging it can be and at the same time have the reader think about sex addiction and how it effects the person.
Tampa is written in the first person perspective of Celeste Prices so as a reader we get to see her trying to justify her actions to herself and the reader. Though as the reader we can see how off her justification is and maybe even remember times in our own life were we have tried justifying making stupid mistakes with similar lies. The thoughts and the desire that Celeste has to the fourteen year old boys is disgusting and are sure to make you feel sick, which is the reason I couldn’t read this book in one sitting.
In fact every time I put down the book, I worried that if I showed my wife any sort of affection that she might get the wrong idea. I found out later that she was worried that if she showed any affection, I might associate it with the book. So I’m glad it was short and I didn’t have to spend too much time reading it. I’m sure my poor wife got sick of me wanting to discuss this subject matter with her, it’s not an easy topic but this novel makes you want to talk about it with someone. She tells me a similar thing happened in Glee where one of the teenage boys was molested by his babysitter when he was young and his classmates thought it wasn’t that bad as it’s every boy’s fantasy.
The fact that you can’t help wanting to talk about this novel and the themes would make this book the perfect choice for a book club which scares me a lot. I hope and pray that this never becomes the next book club book at my local book club. I love the Mary Who? Book club and this is the best indie bookstore in Townsville but I am normally the only male and most of the other people are slightly older than me. This would be the most awkward book to discuss and because I have so much I can say about this novel it would feel really weird, so I hope that it never becomes the next pick for book club.
This has been compared to Lolita and I can see why, the sexual predator and the satirical nature, but personally I think this comparison might do more harm than good. Being compared to a masterpiece like Lolita would put so much pressure on this book and I don’t think it lives up to the beauty of Vladimir Nabokov’s writing. I get why it is compared but I think it tackles different topics and they both should be analysed separately. Having said that it might be a good book to partner with Lolita if your book club has that kind of structure set up.
Lastly I want to quickly talk about the covers because I think they are worth mentioning. In the UK and Australasia the cover is a pink shirt with a button hole. I love this cover, it is very suggestive and makes people look twice and it really suits the book. Apparently, in America, the black cover that I thought looked boring in comparison, is made from black velvet, which might give the same suggestive tones when you pick up the book rather than looking at it. Interesting choices and I think both seem to work really well but I prefer the buttonhole cover.
I should warn people that this book contains graphical sex scenes which are ghastly and off putting, so this book is never going to be an easy read but this is a topic that needs to be discussed more and the book does this really well. I really enjoyed having read this book, but not really while reading it. I’m surprised how much I wanted to talk about the subject, so I think Alissa Nutting achieved what she set out to achieve. I hope people read it soon; I look forward to discussing the book with others.