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.