Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Review #56: Tampa, by Alissa Nutting
Told in first person, which only makes the whole thing a little crazier, Tampa tells the story of Celeste Price, an eighth grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. Her police officer husband is depicted as a buffoon, and as long as Celeste wears tight yoga pants and bends over once in a while to show him her ass, he leaves her alone, and she's free to secretly pursue thirteen year old boys.
And yes, you read that correctly.
Celeste is a pedophile. She's not a young math teacher in her early twenties, just out of college, falling in love with the high school senior who is days away from 18. She's a creepy, oversexed predator who deliberately chose middle school so she could be closer to young teenage boys. She seduces them deliberately, destroys their lives, and walks away without so much as a second glance. She's "too pretty" to go to jail, you see (Debra LaFave, anyone?), and who cares if what's she's doing is illegal; this is what she wants, and she's going after it.
Celeste is a horrible person. I like a good bad guy, but she takes the cake. She has no redeeming qualities. If this were a movie, they'd have to show Celeste playing with puppies to make her seem human. But Nutting does none of that. She portrays Celeste as a completely one-note character, with a singular desire to seek out young boys and seduce them. There is nothing about Celeste to like, and I tried really hard to find something good. She's not even misunderstood; she's just plain awful. Nutting could have made her slightly human, and I think it would have given the character some depth, and perhaps even transformed the book.
But my big beef with Nutting is that she named this book Tampa. Alissa, if you're going to name a book about a city, that city should be, you know, a character in the book. It doesn't need to be a big character, but it needs to have a presence. It would have taken three or four throwaway sentences to set this book properly in Florida, but the closest she came was a brief reference to mangroves. Just a mention of the drive in, or the beach, or any of the millions of bridges we have... that would have made me happy. As written, Tampa could have just as easily been set in Des Moines. I'm sure teachers have sex with students there, too. (Also? Not to pick nits, but Corvettes don't have backseats. No matter how limber your nutter butter main character is, she can't get it on in the backseat of a two seater car, let alone kneel in this imaginary backseat.)
I'll give this one three stars, I suppose. Nutting's writing is decent, but I think I just couldn't handle the storyline.