Friday, 23 September 2016

TAMPA BY ALISA NUTTING - REVIEW

"I found that sometimes it was a relief to do something unattractive in private, to confirm that I’m deeply flawed when so many others imagine me to be perfect"


Tampa is, in all intents and purposes, a sort of gender-bent Lolita. Celeste Price is an English teacher with a perverse sexual desire for pre-pubescent boys who uses her position to groom her would-be lovers into submissive toys for her sexual pleasure. It's safe to say this book is a bit messed up; Celeste is an jerkwad of a human being. Celeste uses her beauty and youthful demeanour to subjugate her 'subjects' to her will and make them grossly unaware of the actual abuse and manipulation they are suffering.

Celeste is highly disturbed, finding only boys who have clearly not reached puberty and are still childish in appearance attractive. There are many excerpts in the novel where Celeste balks over the developing muscles and growing facial hair of her male students as they mature into adult men, but most of her disdain is directed towards the adult male physique, namely her husband Ford who is subject to most of her disdain and disgust.

Celeste and Ford are the 'poster-couple' of what on the surface is the perfect marital life. Both are undeniably extremely attractive, Ford comes from an extremely wealthy family, both have respectable jobs (police officer and teacher) and they live in a gorgeous house filled with wonderful material things. However, the relationship is little more than a front for Celeste used to hide and fund her depraved sexuality. Ford is blissfully unaware of this fact for the majority of the novel, though he does sometimes pick up on Celeste's evident lack of sexual attraction towards him, but he just rubs one out on her naked butt anyway. Yeah, the Price marriage itself is a bit fucked up too.

Celeste's life is portrayed as her engaging in a series of 'acts' in which she plays up one of various personas she has for herself to manipulate people and situations to her own benefit, while unceremoniously screwing others over. Celeste is a fascinating character to read and, while I found her general behaviour and the plot of the book shocking and disturbing, I was enthralled by Celeste's characterisation and read on ardently wondering what messed-up thing she'd do next.

Tampa and Celeste Price are the literary equivalent of a car crash, not unlike it's famous counterpart Lolita, Tampa draws in the reader with it's debauchery and scandal, it illicts outrage and shock yet it defies being put down. Like Lolita I read Tampa with a abject sense of conflict, should something like child sexual abuse and said predators be a subject for a novel destined for widespread divulgence? This is a question that splits the literary community, but also accounts for the mainstream success and notoriety of Lolita and (to a smaller extent) Tampa, as controversy always courts attention.

Due to Tampa's illicit nature and controversial subject it is a book that will not be for everyone; scenes such as vivid depictions of Celeste's sex life with her student Jack, or the instance in which she inserts a piece of paper with another boy's name on it into her vagina are presented explicitly and uncensored and, if you are sensitive to the depiction of such scenes in literature I would recommend not reading Tampa, as things get invariably worse and more 'extreme' as the novel goes on.

Nutting based Tampa on the real life predator Debra Lafave, who went to school with Nutting. Lafave's case and trial and behaviour are closely mirrored in Celeste including the immorally light punishment they both receive in comparison to male equivalents. Nutting wished to write a satirical piece that highlighted the gross hypocrisy and light-handed treatment of female predators, who are often disregarded as true 'criminals' and often receive punishments in relation to the extent of their youth and beauty as, for some absurd reason, there is a gross double-standard in society that determines female-predators as not true predators as, if they are pretty they surely can't have done anything wrong. Thankfully Tampa lifts the lid off of this otherwise absurd notion. Celeste, who is described in almost cartoon levels of beauty, is perhaps one of the worst characters I have ever encountered in a novel. She is open and accepting of her lewd and disgusting behaviour, admitting freely her skills of manipulation, deception and the disgusting betrayal of the role of caregiver for her own sexual satisfaction all without conscience or sense of immorality; her levels of depravity seem to mirror her levels of beauty, a notion that the justice system still seems to be unable to conceptualise. 

Tampa is a clever contemporary piece that reveals the hypocrisy towards female predators and the dangerous and destructive impact the general leniency towards them leaves behind, as well as exposing the ingrained thought within society that sexual abuse is a female-suffered, male-enacted crime only. While at times not brilliantly executed, Tampa is an decent novel with intriguing characters and a excellent modern equivalent to Nabokov's Lolita.

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