I forgot I was reading Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth the same way…
So, Tampa by Alissa Nutting, as far as I can tell, is the buzz book of the summer.
A young, beautiful married woman takes a job as a middle school English teacher so she can prey on fourteen-year-old boys. You can see where the controversy and buzz comes from, right? Man, what a lot of hubbub about a disappointing book.
Many, due to the subject matter, are likening Tampa to a female version of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. As if. Celeste Price, our female narrator ain’t no Humbert Humbert.
Celeste is a beautiful (she tells us relentlessly) twenty-six-year old woman obsessed with youth — her own and the aforementioned fourteen-year-old boys. She creates and follows elaborate processes to ensure she gets the youth she so desires. Nutting catalogs all this in exacting detail.
From Celeste’s beauty routine, to the steps she takes before giving her student, Jack, his first rim job not detail is left unlicked.
Now, many people will object to this book because of the various explicit descriptions of sex between an adult and a child. There are many sex scenes, most of them graphic. If that’s the kind of thing that’s going to upset you, don’t read this book.
The sex isn’t what drove me nuts, it was Celeste and her all-encompassing, one-track-mindedness. It makes her boring as hell, and unbelievable too. Forget sympathetic or unlikable, these kinds of things don’t come into play here, because this character is about as realistic as a Barbie Doll. And the world she inhabits, Barbie’s Dream Condo. I just don’t buy Celeste as an actual living, breathing human out in the world. At all.
Like, I get she’s supposed to be a monster who preys on children and that her desires drive her. But come on how can she manage to get along in the world when all she’s thinking about all the time on every page is her vagina and how she can satisfy it? How does she do her job? How does she cook or clean or you know, all the other things adults do? And she never, ever has a spare thought for anything that isn’t related to getting laid? At all? Is she a character from a “Porky’s” movie? That’s how she comes off.
Celeste is so single-minded in her constant need for sex that this quickly becomes boring. She harbors no inner-conflict. Maybe that’s how sociopaths are supposed to be? There really is no outer-conflict either. She goes about her sexcapades (I’ve always wanted to use that word) with only the smallest bumps in the road.
It’s all just so blah!
Most of the time I was reading Tampa I couldn’t discern if this was supposed to be a funny, satirical novel or a serious one. That’s a problem. If it is satire, what is Nutting satirizing? Female pedophiles? The author spends so much time on the graphic sex or desire for sex that it was hard to see any other themes develop. Perhaps it is trying to send up the the eternal quest for youth and beauty? If so it fails miserably.