A couple weeks ago, just in time for my weekend trip up to Wisconsin for a family visit, I got Tampa by Alissa Nutting on mp3 audio from the library. Edited from Goodreads:
Celeste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She’s undeniably attractive. She drives a red Corvette with tinted windows. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed, and devoted to her.
But Celeste’s devotion lies elsewhere. She has a singular sexual obsession—fourteen-year-old boys. Celeste pursues her craving with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought; her sole purpose in becoming a teacher is to fulfill her passion and provide her access to her compulsion. As the novel opens, fall semester at Jefferson Jr. High is beginning.
Whoa. Tampa is attention grabbing, all right, even from the first few minutes. I am not squeamish about controversial subject matter, so this book didn’t bother me in that way, but it was definitely outside my normal reading material.
Celeste is sick—a conniving and calculated predator. Every part of her life she has orchestrated to better hide the monster she is in plain sight, from her “perfect” husband to her innocent façade. She chooses her targets carefully, vetting them through a meticulous process of tiny little ridiculous tests like “accidentally” popping a couple shirt buttons open when she has the targeted student stay after class… stuff like that.
But Celeste goes way beyond the not-so-mild flirting. Tampa is sexually explicit—Celeste as narrator doesn’t mince words when describing both her thoughts and actions. I agree with some other reviews I saw of Tampa—I’m glad Nutting left out a backstory for Celeste. That would have dredged up all sorts of different deep layers of character development and causes for pedophilia behavior that Nutting wasn’t going for here.
I listened to Tampa on audio, read by Kathleen McInerney, and I really think that enhanced the story—not sure I would have felt so shocked by reading the words on a page versus hearing someone tell me this stuff. McInerney was sultry, disturbing, and sinister in her delivery. Awesome.
I’d say Tampa isn’t for the squeamish or faint of heart, but I thought it did live up to the hype. Nutting’s Tampa sort of reminded me of Gillian Flynn’s works, with a really messed up female lead not shy about laying all her disturbing traits and deceitfulness out there (for the reader). Tampa is a great discussion book that definitely hits a nerve!
Listened to audiobook from September 30 to October 5, 2013.