Review: Tampa by Alissa Nutting

TampaTampa by Alissa Nutting
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Initial reaction: I need to meditate over the rating for this a night, but this is probably going to be an expanded review. I think the execution of this novel was the main thing that bothered me. The audio narrator was very good for what its worth.

Full review:

It’s difficult for me to begin this review without first mentioning that I went back and forth on whether I should pick up this book at all. It deals with a rather difficult subject matter, and even then, that might be an understatement. I don’t particularly care to read about a teacher committing statutory rape and indulging in pedophilic sexual fantasies – graphic or subtle. But you guys know I frequently pick up books that test my mettle as far as subject matter goes and there have been so many opinions across the board on this book that I decided “Meh, might as well.” It helped that I had a friend who encouraged me to pick up the audio version, because the narration for the audio is very good. The reader – Kathleen Mcinerney – gave one of the strongest performances for a character like this that I can think of, so major props to her. Even then, however, the strength of the narration may not be enough to propel you through Nutting’s narrative. That’s because it’s…well…rough. =/

“Tampa” is in-your-face right from the get go, where we meet Celeste Price, a teacher starting at Jefferson Jr. High who is not only a complete sociopath, but she’s very sexually obsessed. This woman does not seem to have a thought outside sex when you meet her, and she does some rather shocking stuff when she’s first introduced. She’s titillated and obsessed about 14-year old boys (prepubescent notably), and particularly indulges in fantasies that remove her from the reality around her. At first I’m wanting to plug my fingers in my ears and say “La la la, I don’t want to hear this woman’s twisted fantasies, this is making me supremely ill” but I couldn’t help but notice a satirical slant in the narrative in spurts with this. The sexual indulgence is heavy and that might throw out some readers from the get go (if it does, know that it doesn’t let up at any time during the narrative, you’re pretty much getting a graphic account of sex, sex, sex through this entire narrative). However, going along, I did find it interesting how Celeste puts herself up in this facade of perfection in her overarching life – perfect husband, perfect appearances, trying to subvert suspicion in any way she can even through the measures of self denial and coercing others to follow her denial. It sort of reminded me of the HBO film I saw years ago called “Serial Mom” – where Kathleen Turner plays a woman with the seemingly perfect life, but if you cross her or her family the wrong way, she’s apt to kill you, cover it up, and then be cleaned up and disposed of your body in time to check on the chicken casserole. And that movie was made well before Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter character came into the media forefront – in book and small screen form.

Pretty much, this narrative attempts to do the same thing. Only it loses that satirical slant after a time to focus on the icky sex. Her first victim? The rather naive Jack.

I’m not even going to lie, I felt so bad for Jack because I knew how this story would go after a time; it was just a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop. The narrative goes into how Celeste chose him, targeted him (Yikes!), and seduced him in a number of different encounters. Jack doesn’t have the easiest time at home with his father, but his situation makes it out for Celeste to choose him as a perfect victim to feed into her own…desires. Jack reacts the way I figured he probably would in his naivete – focusing on how a beautiful young teacher wants *him* and pretty much follows her lead despite nerves and everything else. But it was only a matter of time before Jack’s father discovers something’s off. When the sexual favors passed on to Jack’s father, I felt myself grimacing from both disbelief and icky horror. The narrative had lost its satirical edge sometime before that point, and therefore really had no focus save for the plays between drama and sex.

When Jack’s father really finds out what happened, that’s when the “Oh Snap” factors come into play, because then Jack is torn to bits from the revelations and things that Celeste asks him to do and believe. I knew well before that point that Celeste was never meant to be a sympathetic character, but still, I raged mentally at her denial and coaxing of Jack, who was obviously overcome with grief, shock, and numbness over what transpired after that. It’s hard to believe some of the events that happen in the median after that, but when the other shoe finally drops, I’ll admit it took a while getting there and it was hard to suspend disbelief at how long and how much went into the events following, other than the measure that it was milking the drama for what it could do.

I think the sequence of events on the whole, and the focus on the sexually graphic details made me think that this narrative didn’t really have a set focus into what it was trying to portray with the overarching narrative. I think “Tampa” actually could’ve been structured better to have enlightening commentary on a subject matter that crosses so many moral boundaries and grounds, but with how rushed the latter part of the novel comes across in its resolution and how uneven the tones and focus of this novel was, I think it’s not really more than what it purports itself to be: shocking. And that left me not only numb and icked out, but disappointed.

Overall score: 1.5/5 stars

View all my reviews

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