Tampa is a book I was surprised I had not heard more about. It is described as a modern day Lolita, and follows our protagonist Celeste Price, a beautiful, cunning young woman with a near manic lust for fourteen year old boys.
The novel is incredibly compelling. Horrible yes, but compelling. I read this in two sittings, unable to really get it out of my head until I was done with it and even then it hung around in my brain, gnawing away at me. Nutting pulls no punches with her story and the reader gets every grisly detail of a very unapologetic plot. To say the story is enjoyable might be pushing it, but it was certainly 'entertainment'. The story moves surprisingly quickly and it's hard to put the book down when you are being pulled into this hideous but fascinating character study. There are incredibly graphic scenes involving teenage boys, and the ways in which Celeste's narration describes people around her, particularly those she considers ugly are pretty gruesome and unsavoury. The novel is excellent at really confronting the reader. The scenes that we would rather look away from are written so well we can't help but keep going and there are certainly moments where the reader is challenged in their own fascination. All of this is awful, all of this is terrible, and yet we keep reading, we sit and watch these events unfold, out of the sick fascination we all have when it comes to 'taboo' sex.
My major qualm was how incredibly simple the character of Celeste Price is. She is very interesting and you watch her with this sort of horrible fascination, but ultimately as a 'realistic' character she lacks any depth. She is not just a pedophile (hebephile technically), she is also a nymphomaniacal sociopath. Her entire brain is filled, all the time, with wanting to bang teenage boys and how much she hates literally everybody else... and that's it. There's no hint of moral dilemma, no attempts to understand herself or appreciate her husband for what he does for her. She is a one track mind the entire time and undergoes zero character development from the first page to the last. Even at the moment in which she is faced with what she has done, and the consequences for those around her, all she can do is shrug and say 'It's just what I like.'
In some ways I can see Nutting's intentions with this. Celeste is incredibly beautiful and as such gets away with everything she does. I think partially this book serves as a critique on how we treat beauty as somehow equating to morality, and Nutting shows that even the prettiest face can often belong to a thoroughly nasty piece of work. On the other hand it does nothing to add to the current discussion about sexual attraction to children and sex abuse. In fact it takes a step backwards and reduces the idea of 'the pedophile' to this mindless, abusive animal with no other aspect of their life, as opposed to what they are: People, some of whom do terrible things, and some of whom resist their feelings, never acting upon them at all. Casting a pedophile in the light of sprouting out of the ground and prowling off to find victims does nobody any good at all, and I may have preferred a more nuanced portrayal, whereas Celeste is nothing but a caricature.
I feel Nutting had clear objectives when setting out to write this book, and managed to achieve what she wanted and create a really good book while she was at it, however I wish she had made things more complex, more nuanced, and not resorted to shock factor to propel the book forward. I would certainly recommend it, and did really enjoy the experience of reading it, but I feel any book that tackles a topic of this magnitude socially, it must be done cleverly, and with care, and I feel in some ways Nutting blundered into this without crafting the novel that her ideas and intentions deserved.
If you've read this let me know what you thought! I imagine there are some pretty strong opinions out there.
Thank you for reading.