So, maybe you’ve heard about this book Tampa (2013), the first novel by author Alissa Nutting..?
Alissa Nutting is an assistant professor of creative writing at John Carroll University. She is the author of Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, an award-winning collection of stories. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and O, The Oprah Magazine, among other venues. She lives in Ohio with her husband and baby daughter. Tampa is her first novel.
(pictured: a tale straight outta Florida)
Tampa is about this:
Celeste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She’s undeniably attractive. She drives a red Corvette with tinted windows. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed, and devoted to her.
But Celeste’s devotion lies elsewhere. She has a singular sexual obsession—fourteen-year-old boys. Celeste pursues her craving with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought; her sole purpose in becoming a teacher is to fulfill her passion and provide her access to her compulsion. As the novel opens, fall semester at Jefferson Jr. High is beginning.
In mere weeks, Celeste has chosen and lured the lusciously naive Jack Patrick into her web. Jack is enthralled and in awe of his teacher, and, most important, willing to accept Celeste’s terms for a secret relationship—car rides after school; rendezvous at Jack’s house while his single father works late; body-slamming encounters in Celeste’s empty classroom between periods.
Ever mindful of the danger—the perpetual risk of exposure, Jack’s father’s own attraction to her, and the ticking clock as Jack leaves innocent boyhood behind—the hyperbolically insatiable Celeste bypasses each hurdle with swift thinking and shameless determination, even when the solutions involve greater misdeeds than the affair itself. In slaking her sexual thirst, Celeste Price is remorseless and deviously free of hesitation, a monstress driven by pure motivation. She deceives everyone, and cares nothing for anyone or anything but her own pleasure.
Needless to say, this synopsis coupled with the hype this book’s been getting lately drove me directly to Amazon Kindle last weekend, mere days after it came out. I began reading Tampa on Sunday, July 7th, and I finished it the next day.
This book was unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Following are some sociological considerations and my own personal reactions and thoughts…
But first, for those of you who don’t want to read the many spoilers that lie ahead, let’s start out simply: I highly recommend this book. Yes, it’s rough, graphic, and pushes a lot of buttons, but it’s worth it. If you’re squeamish and/or inclined to be made especially uncomfortable with texts that delve into very uncomfortable things, this book might be challenging. And if you’d rather simply pretend that perversions and victimization don’t exist in our world… well then, probably skip it. I’d suggest you have some other work to do.
So sans spoilers, if I had to sum Tampa up in three words, I’d say: read it, critically. Here’s some more though on gender and “pornography” (*spoilers, spoilers, spoilers*)
(pictured: I like Tampa)
Stereotypes: gender, sexualities, and so much more…
In my reading, the main thing Tampa does is describe variable relations amongst and between gendered social actors. Specifically, we get a fictitious (but not really) warning regarding our continued reliance upon gender and sexualities stereotypes. Consider…
Celeste is a sexual predator. But because she’s pretty and a lady, we don’t think about that. Now sure, readers think about that when they’re in the depths of Tampa; but when a version of this scenario happens in real life, we struggle…
Further, in spite of their very different personalities and the specifics of their respective story lines, both Jack and Boyd were emotionally and sexually abused by an adult. But because they’re boys, they’re asked about consent… like that makes a difference.
Were Celeste a man, this story would have gone differently – He-Celeste would’ve been regarded as a predator, without question. There would’ve been no opportunity to sway a jury with cute outfits and doe eyes, and no one would’ve ever bought assertions that consent had been given and/or that the boys had been the pursuers. And had Jack and Boyd been girls, questions of consent and/or pursuit who’ve never even been raised, He-Celeste or She-Celeste notwithstanding. (girls can’t pursue, and girls don’t have the agency required to consent – such are the completely false, endlessly pervasive, culturally-specific gendered stereotypes we continue to adhere to)
Tampa is a work of fiction, yes. But what Tampa also is is an illustration of what can happen when criminally disturbed characters like Celeste operate in a world reliant upon gender and sexualities stereotypes… (kinda like the one we currently live in)
Oh, you think I’m joking? That gender typifications no longer exist, or at least they’re on the decline? Well, maybe I just spend my time with assholes and sickos (I don’t), but I’ve heard many people scoff endlessly about instances of adult women abusing early adolescent boys – “Where were these teachers when I was a kid, hehehe?” etc. As if the idea that, regardless of the young person’s identity, getting molestmanipulatefucked by a women is somehow ok – not less wrong, but totally ok – than getting molestmanipulatefucked by a man.
Just like in Tampa, in real life, Celeste would have gotten off too. In fact, versions of her have. And that’s a problem.
(pictured: Debra LaFave – isn’t she pretty? …pretty much slapped on the wrist, that is)
Is Tampa “pornography”?
In prowling through some Amazon and other online reviews, I read that a couple times – “Tampa is pornographic!!” and the like.
No, it isn’t.
Tampa is sexually graphic, very explicit, and super disturbing. But “pornography” requires (at least) two key dimensions: it is 1) a medium created for the express purpose of erotic stimulation wherein 2) consent is present.
Alissa explores the issue of consent in a manner that is rough to read, namely because consent is considered in conjunction with age and gender – it’s rough to read because it forces us/readers (me) to wrestle with all sorts of double-standards and inconsistent beliefs we hold, regardless of our political leanings, social justice tendencies, and overall humanity.
For example, though I firmly believe that the character of Celeste is a sexual predator who manipulated young people and though I firmly believe that consent cannot be granted by an early adolescent when it comes to having a sexual relationship with a decade(s)-older adult, I also acknowledge that the characters of Jack and Boyd were very different. Consequently, the quality of their experiences within the context of Celeste’s abuse are also very different.
Both were abused, but the abuse had considerably different impacts on each boy. Now, this may be tied in to the entire arch of each boy’s respective story with Celeste – Boyd just got the fun and the fucking, Jack got jealousy, death, and any number of additional scars. Regardless though, it is a double-standard to negotiate around the fact that each boy was impacted differently and variably (in spite of the objective wrongness of each scenario).
So consent is engaged in Tampa in a very complex manner. The fact remains, however, that Alissa is regaling us with a tale wherein consent is muddy at its worst (or not present at all). Consequently, one dimension required of “pornography” is not present in this work.
Further – and this is just my opinion – Tampa was not written to be sexually and/or erotically stimulating. Alissa was not trying to get us hot and bothered when she described Celeste’s extreme sexual posturings, Jack’s vigor-turned-emptiness, or Boyd’s kinky tendencies. But the fact that we may read some of these instances as hot (as was described in another online review) takes us right back to the previously discussed gender and sexualities stereotypes. This is something we really must take pause and consider.
(pictured: I still like Tampa)
Tampa is a made up story. From what I read, Alissa researched real life “women teachers sexually abusing students” cases, and then blew them out of the water to create Celeste – she and her proclivities are meant to be hyperbolic and extreme.
And yet, while I was reading Tampa, I didn’t necessarily get “extreme.” Real people can be that calculated, and real people can be that disturbed. And real people can be that blind to what’s happening right in front of them, especially when we’re trained (socialized) to NOT associate X behaviors with Y set of indicators.
My hat’s off to Alissa Nutting for having the audacity to write Tampa. Because even though this tale is a work of fiction, it’s not. And neither are our reactions to it.
Buy your copy of Tampa (2013) on Amazon here.
(pictured: Alissa Nutting)
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Images from Google.
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