Tampa by Alissa Nutting
8th Oct 2013
In the opening pages of Tampa, Alissa Nutting allows her narrator, 26-year old middle school teacher Celeste Price to introduce herself, and her mal-intentions for those around her.
Apparently based on Debra Lafave, a convicted sex offender who taught at the author’s own school before being arrested for her acts, Celeste Price is beautiful, married to a man of means, and hell-bent on finding a teenage boy amongst her students who is attractive enough (in her own narrow and thoroughly depraved terms) to sate her depraved appetites, and vulnerable enough to not go around talking about it later.
Celeste Price is beautiful, married to a man of means, and hell-bent on finding a teenage boy amongst her students who is attractive enough (in her own narrow and thoroughly depraved terms) to sate her depraved appetites...In many ways, Nutting’s demonstrations of how much forethought goes in to her paedophile protagonist’s deceit and manipulations are the most impressive and realistic part of the novel. Price leaves nothing to chance, including preventing the aging process so she remains attractive to teenagers for longer.
The audacious scale of the character’s pernicious endeavours is shocking, all of which are – as often happens in reality – undertaken under the nose of her husband, colleagues and the parents of her victims.
Written with obvious and heavily satirical intent, the characterisation of the palpably sociopathic Price, although a little heavy-handed for the genre, allows the reader to breathe easy from the very first page of the book.
Because however sexually driven one might be in one’s own life, it’s clear that Price’s hypersexuality and focus on pre-pubescent males could only be identified with by other degenerates.
This deliberate differentiation between Nutting’s monstrous narrator, her readers and the characters around her, means that the book lacks the nuance and ability to challenge readers.
In the hands of a more able writer, the story could have been more disturbing – making readers question their own sexuality or manipulative nature – but may also have suffered by becoming the kind of book that one is forced to slam down in the middle of every chapter in order to allow one’s mind to settle back down while internally reassuring oneself that, “No, I am not like her. I could never be like her.”
Even though the book is sexually graphic, it’s not a sexy read. If the hypersexual Price is not abusing her victims, she’s masturbating while thinking about it, or just thinking about it, a mindset likely to leave you feeling disgusted, and later cold.
In that sense, it’s not unlike hearing a teenager on a long bus journey tell inflated lies about what they’ve been up to in bed.
As it is, Tampa by Alissa Nutting is a quick read. This is not because the horrifying acts Price engages in are ever rendered more acceptable, gentle or comic by virtue of her beauty and female cis-gendered status, but because of the sheer horror of them, and the speed in which Nutting’s story of a predator’s devolution in to monster is rendered.