Tampa is possibly the most repulsive, disturbing, and un-enjoyable book I have EVER read. It’s also literarily and socially important, but because of its subject matter I wouldn’t recommend reading this for pleasure.
Tampa is a pathological little story told by Celeste, a self-described “pretty blonde” middle school English teacher who seduces her favorite students into sexually coercive and abusive relationships. She’s an absolute sociopath and pedophile, and the amount of graphic detail about pubescent boy bodies included from her perspective makes this a difficult and at times rather disgusting read. Her exploits have predictably disastrous results but as is often also the case in real life, the fallout is far worse for the abuser’s victims and associates than for the abuser herself.
I don’t want to get into too many details in this review because frankly, it’s disturbing to revisit them. Gender-flipped Lolita comparisons have been made but Nabokov wasn’t quite as lurid as Nutting. This book revels in obscenity, giving us vivid descriptions of smells and tastes and textures that really don’t invite contemplation if you are not a pedophile yourself. Parts of this book made me want to throw up. Nutting’s flat, dry matter of fact prose makes the graphic nature of the sexual scenes in this even more shocking and the sheer reptilian self-centeredness of the protagonist is tinged with just enough reality to be believable and perhaps a little bit indicting.
We’ve all seen the headlines and bleary photos of red-faced young women accused of abusing their teen and pre-teen boy students. We’ve all also heard the asinine jokes made about how lucky these boys have been to be “initiated” into sexual relationships by these women–usually young, white and conventionally attractive. In the long, trailing wake of #MeToo and its surrounding discussions, Tampa is definitely food for thought.
4 stars, not because it was a good read, but because it was a shocking and thought-provoking one that asks necessary questions about boys and abuse in our current social climate.
(Blech, beautiful people. I read this book over a year ago and I still feel gross every time I think about it. If for some reason you want to read it after all that, click HERE to go to Bookshop and purchase it online. You can also check your local library for a copy–and frankly I’d do that, because this isn’t a book I’d want lying around my house. Too much bad pedophile juju. That said, this blog has an affiliate relationship with Bookshop and if you do click and purchase, I earn a commission. But seriously–maybe don’t buy this book.)