Subtlety is not on the menu.

Subtlety is not on the menu.

“I spent the night before my first day of teaching in an excited loop of hushed masturbation on my side of the mattress, never falling asleep.”

Without meaning to at all, I somehow seem to have read three books in the last eighteen months about female teachers sleeping with their underage students. It’s not something I have a particular interest in (there’s no need to go all Freudian on me about it), but interestingly, each one has had a different angle. The first, Notes On A Scandal, detailed events from the view of an outsider. The second, Lolito, had the story narrated by the student. It, therefore, seemed only logical to complete the trifecta and read a book from the point of view of the teacher. Thus, Tampa.

I found the book on a list of the most difficult books to read. Some were awarded a place on the list for their constructional complexity (Ulysses, for example) and others, like Tampa, because of the delicate nature of their subject matter. My psychologist friend bought it for me for my birthday and is now coming up with her own theories about what’s going on inside my head, as well as cursing me for adjusting her “recommended purchases” noficiations on Amazon. Nonetheless, the book does well to sit on a list of difficult books, as it is.

This is the story of Celeste Price, a twenty-six-year-old woman who has one particular sexual obsession that makes the skin of any ordinary person crawl – fourteen-year-old boys. She says that she is unable to match the feelings and emotions from the time she lost her virginity at that age with older men, and now seeks to reclaim those feelings from those much younger than her, no matter how illegal. She becomes a teacher at a middle school simply to find boys to sleep with. She is married, however her husband Ford really only serves as a bank account and the impression to outsiders that she is a normal woman.

Within weeks at her first teaching job, she decides that student Jack Patrick will become the perfect boy for her to hook up with. At first she keeps him behind after lessons to talk to him, hinting that she may be interested in more than being his teacher, and then she starts stalking him, parking outside his house with binoculars and a vibrator and watching him through the windows. Soon, she admits to Jack that she is attracted to him and, since he is full of hormones and she is uncommonly beautiful, they embark on a full blown affair.

Ford (a cop), and Celeste’s colleagues, are completely unaware of her transgressions, but they take more and more risks and when Jack’s father Buck begins to suspect something, Celeste must pretend that her frequent presence in his house is simply to see him instead. But Jack is growing up, the risks are becoming greater and soon something has got to give.

Celeste is, without question, a repulsive character. Alright, she’s beautiful, but beneath that she is on a single-minded mission to sate her appetite for underage boys. She has no remorse for what she’s doing, and only once or twice begins to fear that she may be caught out and arrested. Hell, by the end of the novel, it’s clear that despite everything that has happened to her, she has not amended her ways, merely worries that as she ages, she will become less attractive to adolescents. She has a high sex drive and a perverse mind; almost every page and indeed paragraph contains some reference to a sex act, some fairly normal (given the circumstances) and some downright bizarre. The episode with the greeting card is one that in particular makes you go, “WHAT?!”

Nutting was inspired to write this by similar stories in the media, and noted that female paedophiles seemed to get off lighter and recieved less blame. She chose to write the book so graphically and with such a maniac in the lead role that it was impossible to think of her as innocent. You cannot cheer for Celeste; you want her to be found out, but at the same time you know that the book will have to end when she is. It goes down some horrendously dark avenues, but the writing is at all times smart, creative and very immersive.

My one criticism is that Jack slides into his role far too quickly, never much questioning why his teacher (who is twelve years his senior) thinks it’s alright to talk to him in the way she does, eventually leading to their affair. Jack is dull and, while he certainly seems to be enjoying the acts, you can’t help but wonder what’s really going on in his head.

The ending is surprising and somewhat simultaneously satisfying and not. Little closure is reached and even though you’ve already read 200 pages of deeply graphic writing, you sort of want it to carry on. The book is by no means arousing or erotic, merely, as mentioned before, seemingly the product of a sick, twisted mind that is more Celeste’s than Nutting’s. She says she had to write it like that for you to believe the character, and she has done a wonderful job of that.

Controversial, certainly, but very interesting and worth a read if you don’t mind squirming a bit because this isn’t easy-going.