In Alissa Nutting's novel Tampa , Celeste Price, a smoldering 26-year-old middle-school teacher in Florida, unrepentantly recounts her elaborate and sociopathically determined seduction of a 14-year-old student.
Celeste has chosen and lured the charmingly modest Jack Patrick into her web.
In Alissa Nutting's novel Tampa, Celeste Price, a smoldering 26-year-old middle-school teacher in Florida, unrepentantly recounts her elaborate and sociopathically determined seduction of a 14-year-old student.
Celeste has chosen and lured the charmingly modest Jack Patrick into her web. Jack is enthralled and in awe of his eighth-grade teacher, and, most importantly, willing to accept Celeste's terms for a secret relationship--car rides after dark, rendezvous at Jack's house while his single father works the late shift, and body-slamming erotic encounters in Celeste's empty classroom. In slaking her sexual thirst, Celeste Price is remorseless and deviously free of hesitation, a monstress of pure motivation. She deceives everyone, is close to no one, and cares little for anything but her pleasure.
Tampa is a sexually explicit, virtuosically satirical, American Psycho-esque rendering of a monstrously misplaced but undeterrable desire. Laced with black humor and crackling sexualized prose, Alissa Nutting's Tampa is a grand, seriocomic examination of the want behind student / teacher affairs and a scorching literary debut.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-05-06
- Reviewer: Staff
In Nutting’s graphic first novel (after her story collection, Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls), soon-to-be eighth-grade English teacher Celeste Price can barely contain her excitement about her adolescent boys; the 26-year-old passes the night “in an excited loop of hushed masturbation” while her good-looking but dull-witted husband slumbers. Celeste’s mind is as pragmatic as her body is luscious, and her patience (“I had to regard the students like a delicate art exhibit and stay six feet away at all times, lest I be tempted to touch”) pays off. Before long, she coaxes shy Jack into what becomes the first of many liaisons. Unlike American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, Celeste is aware of her depravity—she fears that were she to work as a model, as some suggest, photos would capture “a soulless pervert”—but she indulges anyway. Her bold choice of meeting Jack at his house after school leads to unsurprising complications, as does the boy’s budding love. When Celeste’s usual caution erodes, all might be lost were this young woman not lover and fighter both. Nutting’s work creates a solid impression of Celeste’s psychopathic nature but, unlike the much richer Lolita, leaves the reader feeling empty. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (July)
Into the mind of a predator
Readers who insist that characters must be “likable” for them to enjoy a story had best steer clear of Alissa Nutting’s debut novel, Tampa, a black comedy whose protagonist’s soul is as dark as a thunderstorm at midnight. But for those of a more adventuresome literary bent who are looking for a frank—and often, frankly funny—glimpse into the troubled mind of a female sexual predator, this swiftly paced novel will generate as many intriguing questions about contemporary sexual mores as it does laughs.
Inspired by the true story of Debra Lafave, a Tampa middle-school teacher charged in 2004 with “lewd and lascivious battery” for engaging in sex with a student, the novel is narrated by her fictional doppelgänger, Celeste Price, a 26-year-old teacher who’s entered the profession solely to gain access to sexual prey. She soon fixes on Jack Patrick, a 14-year-old student in her English class, where most of the tutelage involves works of literature with strong sexual themes. It doesn’t take long for them to begin a lust-fueled affair, one that unsurprisingly provokes strong emotions in Jack, while allowing Celeste to sate an appetite for sex that’s like “seafood with the shortest imaginable half-life, needing to be peeled and eaten the moment the urge ripened.”
Take note: Nutting’s descriptions of Celeste’s frequent sexual encounters with her adolescent lover are graphic, even shocking. Equally disturbing is the darkness at the core of Celeste’s being, a depravity that allows her to watch impassively as a character dies of a heart attack or coolly assess how she’ll bring her affair with Jack to what she knows from the beginning will be its inevitable end.
Nutting has taken a considerable risk in tackling such a transgressive subject at a point in her career when she’s being discovered by most readers for the first time. But a novel can’t succeed based only on a bold premise. It’s a tribute to Nutting’s considerable talent that she adds style and wit to make this a convincing, if deeply troubling, story.