It’s #PreFridayReads, when a Tall Poppy author recommends a book she loved. So if you’re looking for a great recommendation for your #FridayReads or another book to meet your 2017 Poppy Reading Challenge, read on. We’ll help you turn the page…
Katie Rose Guest Pryal recommends TAMPA by Alissa Nutting
It’s not secret to anyone that LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov is one of my favorite books. As I once said in an interview, Humbert Humbert (the pedophile murderer narrator of Lolita) is “an irredeemable source of evil. And yet—the genius of Nabokov’s book (and I’m hardly the first person to point this out) is that, as a reader, you find yourself empathizing with him, with his deep-seated desperation.”
Yet, in many ways, LOLITA isn’t transgressive at all—what’s new and different about the story of a grown man sexually exploiting a child? It’s so common, so ordinary, when it happens in real life it hardly makes the news. As a lawyer who works with abused women, however, I can tell you with certainty that it happens all the time.
No, as much as I can appreciate the word-magic that Nabokov pulled off with LOLITA, I’ve always said to myself, “A true literary feat would be a similar story told by a woman, about a woman.” How I wished for that book.
And then my wish came true in the form of TAMPA by Alissa Nutting. If you’re a reader who gripes about unlikeable narrators, you should probably walk away now. Celeste, TAMPA’s main character, is as gorgeous, sharp, and deadly as a rapier. And yet, as you read, you realize you’ve never encountered anyone so magnetic, either. Is Celeste unlikeable? Is Cersei Lannister?
My answer: What a stupid question.
Just like men, women are allowed to have a spectrum of motivations, good and bad. They’re allowed to be all kinds of creatures, good and evil and in between. If bad or evil female characters are only ever shown in flat caricature, how can the good ever be shown as full selves in contrast? Give me a great villainess any day, so that I can appreciate my heroines all the more. After all, there is no Sansa without Cersei.
And Nutting can pull it off. Her writing is electric. From page one, TAMPA takes off like a torpedo, and doesn’t slow down, somehow getting only faster and more intense. When you, the reader, realize that you can’t wait to see what happens next in this story—wait, what is happening and why do I want it to keep happening?—you know that the author has won. This book belongs on the shelf next to LOLITA. And that’s the highest praise I can give.
Here’s the back cover blurb:
In Alissa Nutting’s novel Tampa, Celeste Price, a smoldering 26-year-old middle-school teacher in Florida, unrepentantly recounts her elaborate and sociopathically determined seduction of a 14-year-old student.
Celeste has chosen and lured the charmingly modest Jack Patrick into her web. Jack is enthralled and in awe of his eighth-grade teacher, and, most importantly, willing to accept Celeste’s terms for a secret relationship—car rides after dark, rendezvous at Jack’s house while his single father works the late shift, and body-slamming erotic encounters in Celeste’s empty classroom. In slaking her sexual thirst, Celeste Price is remorseless and deviously free of hesitation, a monstress of pure motivation. She deceives everyone, is close to no one, and cares little for anything but her pleasure.
Tampa is a sexually explicit, virtuosically satirical, American Psycho–esque rendering of a monstrously misplaced but undeterrable desire. Laced with black humor and crackling sexualized prose, Alissa Nutting’s Tampa is a grand, seriocomic examination of the want behind student / teacher affairs and a scorching literary debut.
(“Scorching” is totally not an oversell, by the way.)
Katie Rose Guest Pryal is a novelist, freelance journalist, and erstwhile law professor in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She is the author of the Hollywood Lights Series, which includes ENTANGLEMENT, LOVE AND ENTROPY, and CHASING CHAOS, all from Velvet Morning Press. As a journalist, Katie contributes to QUARTZ, THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, THE (late, lamented) TOAST, DAME MAGAZINE and other national venues. She earned her master’s degree in creative writing from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, where she attended on a fellowship. A professor of writing for more than a decade, she has also published many books on writing.