The basics: Twenty-six year-old Celeste Price is eager to start her new job teaching middle school in suburban Tampa. Her reason: access to fourteen-year-old boys, the only people to whom she is sexually attracted.
My thoughts: As I was raving about this novel to my husband shortly after I finished it, he (somewhat jokingly) said that I really enjoy novels about sexual deviance. Stumped, I asked him for other examples, and he promptly replied Room (which he was too disturbed by to finish and I call one of my all-time favorite reads.) Later, I realized I also adored Repeat It Today with Tears (my review), which is about a father-daughter love affair. It's true all of these novels share the theme of sexual deviance, but they're also about so much more than that, which is why I truly love them.
I read fiction for many reasons, but one of them is to better understand other people. When news breaks of a teacher having an affair with a young student, the question of how or why a person could do that is often asked. While the question may be meant rhetorically, I love that Nutting embraces the character of the Celeste in an attempt to provide a more complicated answer to the question. Nutting does not hold back. Celeste is a brutally honest narrator, and while some parts of this novel were challenging to read, the novel is better because of them. There are moments when Celeste's relationship with Jack seem almost normal. I loved these moments precisely because they soon seem so very wrong. It's a testament to Nutting's writing, character development, and world building that there could be moments of eroticism in such a taboo relationship. Because Celeste is the reader's window into this world, it's easy to be swept away with how she sees the events, but it's still difficult to imagine a happy ending to this novel as Celeste's actions become more reckless. Celeste's collision course with repurcussions is made all the more fascinating by the depth of its set-up, and the final pages of her story are the truly perfect ending.
The verdict: Tampa is a novel that reminds me why I will always love fiction best. Alissa Nutting masterfully gets inside the mind and body of Celeste. The result is a modern masterpiece whose story can only be told this deeply in a fictional way, and its haunting final pages will stick with me for a very long time.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 277 pages
Publication date: July 2, 2013
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