When you think of Alissa Nutting’s writing, what comes to mind? Dark? Disturbing? Psychological? Or transgressive? While this is what I have come to expect from Nutting, I tend to enjoy the social criticism found in her books. In her stunning debut novel Tampa, we follow Celeste Price, a young beautiful middle grade teacher who is a hebephile. Which allows for an interesting take on the nature of a sexual predator, often not associated with female sexuality. This does allow Nutting to explore the schoolboy fantasy of an older woman teaching them the ways of the flesh, whether it be a Mrs Robinson type character, a babysitter or in this case a teacher. The sexual desire of a boy with their budding sexuality; to be with an experienced, already developed older woman. Tampa looks at how developing boys are unable to separate their emotions from the sexual act and this ultimately leads to them getting hurt not, to mention the emotional and psychological damage it will do to them for years to come.
However, you could also look at it as a novel of a woman unhappy in her marriage. From the outside it looks like they are the perfect couple, he is rich, hardworking and determined but she is truly unhappy, despite what people see. Is that because of her singular sexual obsession for fourteen year old boys or is it far more? When Tampa was being published, Alissa Nutting was in the midst of getting a divorce. While Tampa explores someone unhappy in marriage, her new novel Made for Love is the next step, someone trying to escape a bad marriage.
This novel follows Hazel who has just moved back in with her father and his new girlfriend Diane (truth is, Diane is a lifelike sex doll). She has run out of her marriage with Byron Gogol, the tech mogul and founder of Gogol Industries. Hazel is willing to give up the high life to just be free, but is she ever truly free? She ran because Byron planned to make her the subject of the first-ever human “mind-meld”, he will be able to see everything she does or thinks. Hazel on the other hand will not have the same level of access, he is a CEO and needs to protect his company.
I often look for the autobiographical elements in a book, I find it gives me a deeper understanding to both the novel and the author. This is why I often like to read a biography on some of my favourite authors. While I do not know much about Alissa Nutting’s personal life, knowing she went through a separation while writing Tampa really added an extra layer to the novel. Following up with a book similar to Made for Love, reveals even more. It suggests that there was more than just an unhappy marriage.
While there are plenty of novels about women living in a controlling relationship, I think Made for Love was the first one that ever made me feel the anxiety of trying to escape. In an age of social media and technology, it has increasingly become easier to track and monitor someone. Social media allows us to read about their thoughts with the world, and with an app like ‘Find My Friends’ I can tell you where my wife is right now. Privacy is becoming a distant memory and for Hazel, even her thoughts are not safe.
Yet again, on the surface their marriage appears to be a happy one, not even Hazel’s father understands why she would leave and give up on a life of luxury. Made for Love reminds me of Black Mirror in the way it explores technology in relationships and the disturbing reality of what it would be like to try to escape and abusive one. The way people value wealth and status over the emotional wellbeing. This is a biting satire and is what I have come to expect from Alissa Nutting, I eagerly await her next book.
This review was originally published in the literary journal The Literati