Published by Ecco on Jul. 2, 2013
Source: Giveaway / Gift
It’s the night before her first day teaching seventh grade, and all of Celeste’s dreams are about to come true. The sexy 26-year-old has worked for years to become a teacher because, as many teachers say, she loves kids. Celeste is a little different, though. Her love of kids is less “they are the future” and more “I am obsessed with their undeveloped pubescent bodies.”
Celeste has become a middle school teacher with the aim of seducing her male students. Ever since losing her virginity at 14, she has been attracted only to boys of that age — and her attraction is all-consuming.
Soon after the school year starts, Celeste chooses her lover/victim, a boy named Jack. He’s… surprisingly willing to go along with everything she says, and pretty soon they’re fucking at his house while his dad’s at work almost every day.
Obviously, this book is super disturbing. Nutting puts you right there in Celeste’s head, and the first-person narration works really well. It is very unsettling to learn the depths of Celeste’s obsession and to see the world (and 14-year-old boys) through her eyes. Her thoughts, and they way she acts on them, are sickening.
Tampa has been one of the most talked-about books of the year, and when I was having trouble getting my hands on a copy, Jen of The Relentless Reader kindly sent me her galley. (Thanks Jen, you’re a rockstar!) I’m glad I got the chance to read this book, but after reading it, I think the hype lies more in the controversial nature of this book than its quality. I just… didn’t think it was very good.
I thought the characters were flat; there is nothing more to Celeste than her sexuality and her craving for adolescent boys. Wanting to have sex with young boys, figuring out how, logistically, to make this happen, and trying to not get in trouble for her perversions are literally the only things she thinks about. Oh, and how she can drug herself to avoid being conscious around her husband. The other characters are similarly shallow; Jack never feels like a real person, either. He’s basically just a sex toy for Celeste — a very willing, enthusiastic, never-tiring sex toy. Which he basically is. But it didn’t feel real, you know? I suppose you could attribute that to Celeste’s narration; from her point of view, the only thing that matters about him is his sex. That doesn’t really satisfy me, though.
I also don’t quite buy the ease with which Celeste seduces her students. They are 14-year-old boys; I’m sure they have sexual fantasies and are eager to be with girls, but is it realistic how quickly Jack (and later Boyd) have sex with her? They’re completely inexperienced, and yet they have sex with her in the first week that she shows them her breasts? They don’t want to go any slower than that or have reservations about sleeping with their teacher? They don’t seem awkward or nervous enough for 14-year-old virgins.
I know the point of this novel is to examine a societal double standard; if a young girl sleeps with her male teacher, she’s viewed as a victim, but a young boy who sleeps with his hot female teacher? Good for him! That’s the fantasy! Why wouldn’t he want to sleep with her?! But I didn’t think this message was executed very well. I didn’t feel that the portrayal of Celeste as a sexual object was a criticism of society’s tendency to view women that way. That was the reality of her character — unless Nutting’s purpose in making her this way was to make readers think, “No, women aren’t really like this. This is a myth,” which also seems problematic; she shouldn’t have to make her characters/story unbelievable to make a point. (Should she?) Also, would a person who really does think of women this way raise this objection? Or would they just nod along, their suspicions confirmed?
I’m glad I read Tampa and can join the discussion about it, but I think it’s popular more because it’s shocking than because it’s good. I’m glad it’s gotten people talking more about gender stereotypes and the way society views women, but the book itself didn’t do it for me.
Thank you to Jennifer at The Relentless Reader for sending me her galley of this book!
EDIT: Check out the comments for some alternative perspectives on the realism of the characters/situations in this book. Some of my judgements were based on assumptions, and I’m glad other bloggers chimed in with their own insights and perspectives.