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Bibliomaniac Scarlet

I came here to keep in touch with all my friends who left GR after the censorship debacle. I read a little of every genre. I co-blog at Musings of a Bibliomaniac.

Currently reading

Burial Rites
Hannah Kent
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Ana Juan, Catherynne M. Valente
Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe


Tampa - Alissa Nutting

I'm giving Tampa such a low rating not because it was disgusting but because it was so disappointing. Believe it or not, I liked the idea of this book. It was the way the plot played out that irked me and in the end, I'm afraid it did not have the intended effect on me.


Tampa started off brilliantly. I had my doubts, having read countless reviews that called it vulgar but 10 pages in and I was *gasp* liking it. Yes it was vulgar but it was also witty, brazen, horrifying and compelling. Juggling shock and humor is not easy, especially with a topic like pedophilia but Nutting had it all in control. I kept bursting into involuntary giggles and had to guiltily chastise myself for laughing at something as outrageous as this.


What struck me most about that first half was the underlying confidence in the writing. It was re-assuring, like Nutting had her eyes set on the destination and all I had to do was follow her lead.


But then we lost our way.


And by the time we found the right one, it was too late. I was exhausted and did not care.


So our narrator is Celeste Price - 26, blond, beautiful and a pedophile. She takes up a teaching job in a middle-school at Tampa with the sole purpose of preying on "suitable" students to satisfy her sexual urges. She zeroes in on 14-year-old Jack Patrick and successfully seduces him, leading to an affair. Nutting does not hold back; we are privy to Celeste's every sexual encounter and darkest desire.


As unpleasant as it is to read, I feel the lewd, lascivious tone is warranted. We are inside Celeste's head and Celeste is vulgar, so why shouldn't the book be? What bothered me was how I kept forgetting that Jack was 14, a child. A major chunk of the second half felt like a teacher-student erotica, but not necessarily a child-adult affair, so the sex-scenes weren't horrifyingly erotic like they should have been; they were just plain erotic. And once Jack's father was dragged into the whole mess... it was a complete nosedive. The satire no longer worked and the shock-factor was so overused that I'd stopped reacting to the many blowjob scenes.


Eventually, Tampa does reach where it's supposed to, but in a very rushed, unpolished manner. It makes some interesting points about how society views female sex-offenders and how beautiful people can get away with almost anything but these points were mere observations I made, they did not really hit me. Maybe because there's not much foundation there to lend emphasis to these points. The trial is merely skimmed over - fast-forward to verdict. That last scene should have outraged me, I know, but I didn't feel it. I was just shaking my head in disappointment.


In fact, I think I've gained more insight from Nutting's interviews than from the book.


Many have lauded the characterization of Celeste but I disagree. I found her remarkably uncomplicated. Everything in Celeste's universe revolves around her desire to be with 14-year-old kids and it's shocking in the beginning but once you get used to the idea, you can predict her every reaction. So when Celeste is in jail and she's worried about not having access to face-creams, I was not surprised at all. She has a one-track mind, how is that sophisticated?


Also, I have trouble thinking of Celeste as a person. If I read a book about a monster, I expect to feel for a moment, no matter how fleeting, some kind of positive emotion for the monster. Pity, or sympathy, or just a basic understanding maybe? But there is nothing redeemable about Celeste. She could, for all the difference it makes, be a robot that is programmed to track down prepubescent boys and who must have sex with them to recharge its batteries. The only thing I felt for Celeste was varying degrees of disgust and well, I don't need a book to tell me that pedophiles are disgusting.


Even the other characters, not one of them sparked any kind of emotional reaction in me. I was either disgusted by them or felt nothing for them.


Overall, Tampa is not a bad book. It's a brave attempt on Nutting's part and I appreciate the idea but despite the very high shock-value, I found the book mundane and unmemorable.


I've not given up on Nutting however. I'm impressed with her writing and guts, so I will watch out for her next book.



*With thanks to Netgalley for the free digital copy*