Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Review: Tampa, by Alissa Nutting

Tampa, by Alissa Nutting. Published 2014 by Ecco.

Tampa was my last read of 2022 and sits well alongside my first, Julia May Jonas's Vladimir. Both are bonkers books narrated by highly unreliable women with basically no concept of their own extreme myopia when it comes to their lives and behavior. Tampa's Celeste is a mid-20s middle school teacher married to a police officer. She is sexually obsessed with boys in their early teens; 16 seems to be her upper limit but she likes her lovers to come in just under that. Her marriage is basically a sham as she plots and calculates and grooms her next boyfriend, cherry-picked right from homeroom.

She is pretty revolting, objectively speaking, and even subjectively; Nutting doesn't do much to make her charismatic, or particularly smart, or nice, or anything else that might complicate the situation. That's fine. I don't need my heroines to be nice. What she is, is very single-minded to the point and past it, of obsession. Her appeal to the boys basically comes down to her hotness. When she begins an affair with Jack, a student in her class, he fantasizes about marriage while she wonders how she's going to dump him when he ages out in a year or so. Then Jack's father takes an interest in the hottie helping his son with his homework, and events veer straight off into the absurd.

Which is where they needed to go because otherwise we'd be in Melodrama Country and nobody wants that. This book is wild ride into the ridiculous, like if Lolita was a comedy and instead of being emo Humbert was a little more direct about his sexual appetites. (I wonder if what happens to Jack's father is a callout to Dolores's poor mother.) We get to know a lot about Celeste's prodigious appetites.

Celeste never really loses her solipsism, even as she ends up so far off track you wonder if she'll ever make it back. I think the book is a raging success, not the least of which because Nutting's writing is so good and convincing and even if you hate Celeste and what she's doing you'll still want to see how it turns out. She doesn't come away unscathed and there is an interesting question or two raised about the nature and meaningfulness of consent and agency. But it's not too deep. 

Tampa is a great one for the beach bag; I bought my copy, the only one I found in stock after looking for it in several bookstores, in a resort town bookstore where the bookseller was a huge fan. I'm a huge fan of Nutting's ever since Made for Love, her subsequent book (Tampa was her first novel) and Tampa certainly cemented that. With the right twists in your sense of humor you might be too.

I did not receive this book for review.

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