What is Humbert Humbert was a sexy young teacher? What if she didn’t have to marry into a family to get access to the children, because she was their teacher? What is it like to be a pedophilic sociopath? Those are some of the questions Alissa Nutting grapples with in Tampa, a novel that will leave you ready to scrub your skin off, but also amazed at the writing style and the look inside a mind most people will never, hopefully, be able to understand.
Tampa is the fictional story of Celeste Price, but based on the true story of Debra Lafave, a teacher caught having sexual relationships with her underage students. That’s exactly what Celeste Price is after. In fact, that’s the reason the well-off wife becomes a teacher. She wants access to middle school, teenage boys. She knows her type and knows how to spot a good target. As she starts at her first real teaching job, teaching the eighth grade, she begins to scope out her students for the perfect new boy toy, and eventually she lands upon Jack Patrick. What ensues is extremely sexual, stomach charmingly detailed, remarkably well written, and full of sociopathic twists and turns that leave you craving more to the story. How will Celeste Price get herself out of trouble if she gets caught? What is it about female predators that is different than male predators? How does society and the justice system treat them differently? Those are some of the major topics of the book, Nutting’s debut novel.
Like Lolita was reviled, so was Tampa, but you can talk about how disgusting the subject matter is while still appreciating the writing and what it aims to do. Nutting went to school with Debra Lafave, the inspiration for Alissa Nutting, and teachers sleeping with students are in the news every single day it seems, so why not offer a fictionalized account of what it might be like for that woman, who is clearly just as unhinged as a male teacher seeking out a sexual relationship with a female student? How culpable, if at all, is the student in that situation? What happens when parents get involved? This book left my skin crawling but I was totally fascinated by every page of it. Nutting is very detailed, almost to a fault, but you truly feel in the moment and it’s not like she’s trying to write erotica. You’re meant to be freaked out by the sex scenes between Celeste and 14-year-old Jack. It’s not supposed to be fun for you, even if it is fun for her. Give this book a chance if you like good writing and weird, despicable characters, and I promise you won’t regret it.