If you have a fourteen-year-old son, you just might want to home-school him after reading Alissa Nutting’s chilling novel, “Tampa.”
For it is upon fourteen-year-old boys that Celeste Price preys, and she’s quite good at it.
Celeste is a middle-school English teacher. I have teacher friends who teach elementary and high school, and neither of them would teach middle-school. That’s where students are in the throes of puberty, part whooping fifth grader, but with none of the maturity of even a high school Freshman. Celeste chooses to teach middle-school for this very reason.
She has specific criteria for her conquests: not jocks, not complete geeks, nobody overly outgoing. She likes her “men” with one foot still on the little boy side of puberty—still skinny with non-deep voices—and once she finds her target, she pursues with a single-mindedness of purpose that would be admirable, if it were geared toward teaching students.
Let me rephrase: her purpose would be admirable were it geared to educating her students in academics, not in sweaty backseat romps, desktop lunch period sodomy, or risky house-calls when her beaux’ parents are out.
Celeste is married to an actual adult—Ford—with whom she shares very little of herself. He’s a police officer who works odd shifts. Celeste makes every excuse she can to avoid sex with him; when she relents, she does so only while whacked out of her gourd on wine, Ambien, cocaine, and whatever else she can find. She enjoys spending his wealthy family’s money, though. She drives a hot red Corvette, and spends a small fortune on age-defying skin treatments, even though she’s a young-looking 26.
“Tampa” starts with Celeste lustfully gearing-up for a new school year. She is positively horny thinking about all the fourteen-year-old boys she’ll have in her talent pool. Then we follow her as she narrows down her choices, and picks her perfect specimen. She makes her move, and the poor kid is ensorcelled. Things spiral slowly downhill from there.
“Tampa” is in many ways the perfect title for this book. First, the Tampa Bay Area is a steambath, with lots of bay-front mangrove stands, perfect to park by the water and engage in sweaty fumblings.
Even more apropos, the Tampa suburb of Temple Terrace is where English teacher Debra Lafave was arrested for having sex with a fourteen-year-old student. “Tampa” could be an attempt to discern what Mrs. Lafave was thinking—she, too, is a beautiful blonde who taught middle-school English.
There are discrepancies, though. “Tampa” may have been inspired by Lafave, but the inner-workings of Celeste Price’s mind are positively chilling.
Ms. Nutting’s narrative made me squeamish at times, and I’m not easily squeamed (Yes, I made-up a new word). Celeste is unapologetic in her lust for fourteen-year-old boys. She’s chosen her career to guarantee access to a fresh crop every year. The thoughts inside her head are what’s so disturbing. She has no moral qualms at all about her actions. She figures her young partners aren’t complaining, and she’s satisfied, so it’s a win-win, right?
There’s something even more off-putting, though. Celeste’s thoughts, fantasies, and actions would make Humbert Humbert call Child Protective Services on her. The lioness is the predator, and Celeste price is precisely that: a hot-blooded, cold-hearted predator.
“Tampa” is one of the best-written, most-chilling novels I’ve read this year. I most highly recommend it. Now I’m going to go take a hot shower and try to scrub my brain.