Book review for Alissa Nutting’s “Tampa”
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This is the kind of book that people will either love or hate. There really is no in between, because whether you loved it or hated it the character and the motives of Celeste Price will provoke some kind of reaction out of you.
For those who don’t know, this book follows Celeste Price, an attractive Florida middle school teacher who is, by textbook definition, a pedophile and sexual predator. She teaches middle schoolers for one purpose and one purpose alone: to seduce and have sex with preteen boys. This book is full of very graphic scenes of sex between an adult and a child (you’ve been warned!) and tons and tons of really crude language about the subject just mentioned. There’s also a lot of discussion on female anatomy, vaginas, penises, masturbation, sex toys, etc. If you aren’t ready for that, I don’t advise that you read this book, because the frank sexual nature of it is about 80% of its content. I’m not kidding.
Let me say this: I have never, ever encountered a character so unlikeable in my life. Celeste Price is a woman on a mission in the way that she pursues a 14 year old male student, seduces him, and uses him to fulfill her sexual desires. There’s no love here, only sex. Being inside this woman’s head is truly nauseating experience. I had to literally “schedule” time with Celeste (as in, be in a mood where I felt like dealing with her) because whenever you finish reading it the ‘ick’ factor is one where a dozen showers won’t make you clean.
So why did I read it? And why did I like it? Because it’s true transgressive fiction, in its purest and best form.
What this book forces you to do is question the way we as a society view adult-child sexual relationships. We all seem to agree as a society that any adult engaging in sex with a child under the age of consent is wrong, and in turn, there are laws designed to protect minors from sexual abuse. But the way we view the child victim, depending on whether they are male or female, is problematic. A teenage girl who has a sexual relationship with a male teacher is almost always a victim. In the book, however, the people surrounding Jack do not consider him a victim. Nor does Jack himself consider himself to be victim. He is just being a red blooded American boy, living out a teenaged male fantasy of being dominated by a sexy older woman.
Because we get to live so closely inside Celeste’s mind, seeing how truly depraved she is, we have no choice but to express outrage when the law allows her to escape justice because she is a physically attractive female. There is also the trope of the assumption that women are the fairer sex and not inherently evil. We don’t want to imagine women as aggressive, sociopathic sexual predators because it goes against our ideal of women as caregivers and loving people. We assume females are a passive gender and not capable of sexually abusing a man.
So I liked this book, because it made me think. Even if those thoughts were truly vile, I feel it was absolutely necessary, to understand the larger point that the book is trying to make. I’m glad I read this book, but I would clearly never, ever read it again.