Tampa by Alissa Nutting: Book Review

CW: pedophilia, adult/minor relationship, grooming, sexual assault

I found that sometimes it was a relief to do something unattractive in private, to confirm that I'm deeply flawed when so many others imagine me to be perfect.


Celeste Price's one ambition in life is to groom fourteen year old boys. It is precisely why she became a teacher in the first place, and she's settled her eyes on Jack. She approaches her mission with the utmost precision and cunning, and provides a glimpse to the face of true evil.



Tampa is a surprisingly funny and clever novel that is rife to the brim with dark humor and satire. It's easy to make the connection between Tampa and Lolita. Both novels tell the horrifying story of pedophiles with cruel intent. However, Lolita is a classic because of Nabakov's flowery prose. Meanwhile, Celeste's descriptions are overblown pornographic to the point of being comedic.

The novel is inspired by the State v. Lafave case, where 24 year old Debra Lafave was arrested for sexually assaulting a 14 year old student. However, she never went to prison because her defense attorney successfully argued that she was "too pretty for prison." Of course the statement on its own is utterly ridiculous, and provides the background of the humor in this novel.

It is clear that Alissa Nutting does not condone these actions. Celeste is even aware that what she is doing is wrong, but it is her choosing to continue with these vile acts that makes her a truly evil character. It's not worth asking if Celeste is a likable protagonist. She's a pedophile, and while Nutting does provide other instances to her life, there is nothing that allows her to be redeemed by the audience. And that provides an additional sense of the utmost lunacy to the situation.

The prose in this book lends itself well to a satirical piece. Celeste is a vain woman who is constantly terrified of her aging and decline of superficial beauty. Yes, the reader is trapped in the mind of an immoral woman. However, the devil is in the details where Nutting encourages the audience to laugh at how ridiculous it is. Celeste wants to come up behind a fourteen year old boy and tell him that she wants to smell him cum in his pants. The very thought of that working is mad.

The sex scenes are peppered with odd details that make it almost pornographic, not in the sense of actually turning people on, but in the sense of looking at a scene and wondering to yourself, "how does she even DO that? That doesn't look enjoyable at all, it looks borderline painful and not in a good way."

The pacing was perfect for this novel. It wasn't too fast, nor too slow. I preferred the speed the novel takes place, because it allows the reader to fully come to terms with the sickening view of our protagonist. There was little focus on plot, but the book didn't need that. The reader stayed around for the barbaric thoughts of Celeste Price.

Although I was absolutely appalled by the subject matter of this novel and how Nutting went about it, I couldn't put it down. After reading other reviews, it seems I'm not the only one. I'd liken it to slowing down on the freeway to look at a car crash. You just can't look away.

I enjoyed this book, however I can easily understand other's sentiment. It is a truly disturbing novel. Celeste Price is a cunning and highly intelligent character, and she pursues sexually assaulting these young boys with no remorse. Reading from her point of view is terrifying, as the reader realizes that atrocious people like her exist in this world.

I disagree with the opinion that this book should be banned, or that Ecco, the publishing house, is in anyway reprehensible. This book is not a how-to guide for potential predators, rather it is a look for the everyman to get into these predator's headspace. It is apparent that Nutting does not approve of Celeste's actions. This book is simply a perverse look behind the mask of true evil, while also allowing the reader enough levity to understand that evil exists in this world.

I recommend this book to those who want to read more disturbing literature in a similar vein to Tender is the Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica and My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh.

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