Tampa: Hate Read

by Marinka on July 29, 2013

This weekend I hate-read Tampa by Alissa Nutting

It sounded interesting:

From Amazon: In Alissa Nutting’s novel Tampa, Celeste Price, a smoldering 26-year-old middle-school teacher in Florida, unrepentantly recounts her elaborate and sociopathically determined seduction of a 14-year-old student.

Celeste has chosen and lured the charmingly modest Jack Patrick into her web. Jack is enthralled and in awe of his eighth-grade teacher, and, most importantly, willing to accept Celeste’s terms for a secret relationship—car rides after dark, rendezvous at Jack’s house while his single father works the late shift, and body-slamming erotic encounters in Celeste’s empty classroom. In slaking her sexual thirst, Celeste Price is remorseless and deviously free of hesitation, a monstress of pure motivation. She deceives everyone, is close to no one, and cares little for anything but her pleasure.

Tampa is a sexually explicit, virtuosically satirical, American Psycho–esque rendering of a monstrously misplaced but undeterrable desire. Laced with black humor and crackling sexualized prose, Alissa Nutting’s Tampa is a grand, seriocomic examination of the want behind student / teacher affairs and a scorching literary debut.

So why did it feel so yucky to read it?

I had no complaints about the writing, despite some distracting Gone Girl-size plot holes.

But overall, it felt like I was reading child p0rn (disclaimer: I don’t actually read child p0rn, so I’m not sure what one would expect– no need to answer that!) But if I’m reading an eroticized account of a statutory rape between a 20-something adult and a 14 year old child, that seems to be walking and quacking like a duck.

I am the last person to call for any kind of censorship, and I absolutely do not want this book banned, burned or to bear a sticker about explicit content.

But I do want to have a conversation.

I want to have a conversation about whether this book eroticizes the improper student-teacher sexual relationship. I want to talk about language that refers to child rape as “sexual relationship” like I did a second ago.

But I also want to talk about what it means. Does it mean that we cannot write about pedophiles, murders or people who wear French manicures? Does it mean that all the protagonists must be moral and upright or at least not cross the line into the extremely morally objectionable?

Unfortunately I don’t have the answers. But I’d like to hear your thoughts. Because I can accept being wrong. What I cannot accept is not saying anything at all.

One year ago ...

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Laurie July 29, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Interesting. I’ve always had a similar icky response to Lolita. The overall theme made me so uncomfortable, I’m missing the artistic merit of the writing.

Maybe through the inherent selfishness and narcissism in the narrating characters, we are supposed to see the motivations of this type of person?

I just can’t shut up the voice going, “This wrong! wrong wrong wrong!”


Marinka July 30, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Maybe. I don’t know. I read an article about in Salon http://www.salon.com/2013/07/25/tampa_scandalous_sex_hides_a_deadly_serious_satire/ that rubbed me all sorts of wrong too. First of all, I don’t think of statutory rape as “seduction”. I also think female on sex male crimes are treated very differently these days. It’s all pretty depressing, so I really know how to write a humor blog. Blech.


Awesome dude July 29, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Your fraternal grand mother used to say: If you do not like to do something, just do not do it, and it does not matter what it is.

It was years before Nike people payed good money to Madison avenue people.


July 30, 2013 at 7:42 am

There is nothing wrong about writing about pedophilia, per se; but writing to glorify it and to turn people on? That’s what’s wrong. Lolita did not do that at all. It made very clear by the end of the book that her seducer’s deviancy had pretty much wrecked her childhood and her adult life, or at least made it dramatically different than what it should have been. And all throughout the book, it becomes clear to the reader that the narrator is a seriously messed-up dude.

This book doesn’t seem to have any of that. It’s written to titillate, and maybe the author does have some weird fantasies she’s acting out in this novel. Or maybe not – I would hate to accuse Stephen King of wanting to do all the things he writes about! Although sometimes I do have to wonder…


Marinka July 30, 2013 at 9:20 pm

From what I read, the author went to the same high school as one of the female sexual predators in Florida who was arrested for statutory rape.

I don’t really think that the author set out to titillate, although who the hell knows, but the novel definitely does sex play.


Tabitha Crow July 30, 2013 at 10:39 am

My own personal opinion is: No matter how grown up one seems, either in maturity, mental/emotional development, or physically, a child is a child until (legally) 18 years old. For most people, those childish impulses and behaviors last into their 20’s. Science has proven that your brain doesn’t mature until much, MUCH later than 14. I’m not one for censorship either. Everyone should have the right to read whatever it is they want to. I wouldn’t, however, suggest this book as “one to read” to any of my family or friends. Personally, I agree with the previous comment about the author harboring some sort of fantasy about this subject. After all, “Write what you know” didn’t get to be an over-used cliche by not being repeated.

Thanks for this post. Have a great day!


christy July 30, 2013 at 3:22 pm

I don’t know. My gut instinct is don’t put that in a school library…


Roshni July 30, 2013 at 6:30 pm

I’m not sure what the writer’s intent is and what the outcome of this whole sordid relationship turned out to be; so it’s difficult to comment. I agree that a conversation should be had!


Karen July 30, 2013 at 11:11 pm

I found it a very intriguing read. Getting inside the female pedophile’s head, seeing how she chose her victim(s), groomed them, etc. She was absolutely without any sort of moral base.


Deborah J July 31, 2013 at 1:37 am

I get it.
It’s a similar feeling you might get looking at those explicit True Crime books on a library shelf, or in a bookstore. A real murder/crime is committed, and someone exploits that by writing a book. It’s horrible but fascinating. What happened, why did they do it….are there pictures? Then yuck, you realize how insensitive that is and you feel guilty.
Slink away hoping no-one saw you. (That may just be me. ha.)

So multiply that by 10, because this is gratuitous. There is no redemption in exposing the crime, or heightening awareness or just down right shaming a perpetrator…because it’s fictional.
Someone wrote what offends us ethically and legally…for entertainment.


deb July 31, 2013 at 11:33 am

i’m with suburban correspondent: it’ fine, and even useful to take this as a subject of exploration, but only in a responsible way. I haven’t read the book, but I can say at least that the amazon description you posted eroticizes the relationship. I find that incredibly irresponsible. Maybe that’s not an accurate representation of what actually happens in the book? Or maybe it is. It doesn’t really matter if the author intended to eroticize the subject or not, if that’s how it turned out, then that’s a problem.


joeinvegas July 31, 2013 at 12:33 pm

A book is a book, and people are free to write and read what they like, as long as it isn’t suggesting anyone do something illegal. Most people can tell when something is wrong.
Not sure about outlawing writing about French Manicures. That would wipe out novels about half the population of France.


August 1, 2013 at 10:07 am

It’s interesting that someone brought up Lolita which I read in school and really liked. I wonder now if reading it as a parent I would have a different reaction. I think the main question is does the book make you acknowledge the inappropriateness of the relationship or does it glamorize it and make it seem “ok”? I read and watch a lot of shows/movies about serial killers, etc and rarely are they ever glamorized. With the exception of Dexter who’s the Robin Hood of serial killers. I think there’s a way to portray something like this without it being child p0rn but clearly this author didn’t do that.


The mama bird diaries
August 2, 2013 at 8:22 am

Sounds like an icky book.


Deborah J August 4, 2013 at 10:23 pm

….so it made the Saturday papers here in sunny Australia.
It’s not being offered to the big chain stores by the publisher so we won’t see it in Kmart or Target.
The smaller chains aren’t stocking it either. They want it known that they are not banning it, just declining to stock it. They don’t think it would sell to their demographic. Fair enough.
The independent bookstores are stocking it, and don’t know what all the fuss is about.


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