Review: Tampa: A Novel

Tampa: A NovelTampa: A Novel by Alissa Nutting
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am too young to have experienced it first-hand, but for a minute there in the 70s pornography went mainstream. Everyone was talking about it. It was “in” to see it. Regular theaters (as opposed to shady sex theaters) were showing movies like Deep Throat and Debbie Does Dallas. It was being discussed out loud rather than in hushed tones. To me, that’s what the buzz around Tampa about three years ago was like – everyone was talking about this book. While I do follow some smut fans on here who write VERY entertaining reviews, this was more like EVERYONE talking about it. So, after reading a portion of the first chapter and seeing the hyperbolic inner monologue of our main character, Celeste, I put it on my To-Read list. Also, it takes place in my home state of FL – where all the nutjobs live. There it sat for quite some time.

This book was both a very easy read (thanks to Celeste’s inner monologue) and a hard book to read (thanks to the subject matter). I don’t know what the author had in mind, but it ended up making me think A LOT about the particular situation depicted in the book. Basically, Celeste is a pedophile focused on early-teen boys. We’ve seen this a bit on the news and South Park even took it to the extreme with Kyle’s little brother (who’s, what?, three years old?) having sex with a teacher. Ms Nutting posits that this is essentially an addiction and writes Celeste as being so desperate for young adolescents that before becoming a teacher, she got her needs met by walking around the mall and looking at kids. In fact, it’s so bad that, like most addictions, she’s driven to more and more reckless behavior as not getting caught makes her bolder and bolder. Even at the end (view spoiler) So on the one hand you end up feeling sorry (not empathizing, but feeling sorry) for this woman who we’re constantly told is the epitome of attractiveness who can ONLY get her sexual needs met via illicit means. Near the end she mentions being jealous that normal people can find anyone anywhere and hook up and get their needs met. In fact, contact with peers leaves her disgusted. I also don’t know if this is someone Ms Nutting researched or just threw in as another character trait for Celeste, but she is also OBSESSED with not growing old or showing signs of aging. Not the usual “20th/21st Century is BS because it requires women to never age, but salivates over men with signs of greying hair”, but full on psychological need to be young.

But then you see how she manipulates the children to get them complicit in the acts, and you realize why we call these people sexual predators. Celeste is taking advantage of the last time that women have societal power over males as well as the sexual confusion that comes with being a teen. Every time in her head as she plots out how to make things seem as though they came from him or were his idea is just so gross. And, according to a number of accounts I’ve heard on various podcasts – it’s entirely accurate. Pretty much no one just rapes a minor. They exploit the power dynamic until the point that it seems normal to the kid and they use shame and other factors to keep the kid quiet. It’s discomfiting to read.

It’s this unexpected complexity that caused me to boost it up to 3 stars from 2. Because there’s just something unnerving (and maybe this was Ms Nutting’s intention) about very sexual descriptions (belonging to any smut-book) involving an adult and a minor (as in, it would have been WAAAY less uncomfortable if it had been 2 kids exploring sex for the first time) and the story is somewhat basic. I was prepared to give it 2 stars. But as I thought about the complexity of the dueling themes – why is society more OK with an adult woman seducing a young male even if it’s just as predatory and ruinous for the kid (potentially – I’m sure there are people who’ve had something similar happen and are fine) and I figured Ms Nutting had earned that extra star.

Anyway, the description on Goodreads is pretty accurate. This is a sexually explicit book and while Celeste’s thoughts are a fun romp, definitely trigger warnings for anyone who’s been a victim or is close to someone who’s been a victim. Although, (and I’m no psychologist) there’s perhaps some therapeutic benefit in being in Celeste’s head and knowing how much you were manipulated that it wasn’t actually your fault – adults are able to be more cunning because they have more life experiences, power, etc.

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