Tampa – Alissa Nutting

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When a book lands on your doormat with that cast of characters listed on the back, you get very excited – at least I did as that list contains some of my favourite characters of all time. Patrick Bateman being my number one. I think Bateman’s hilarious. I’m laughing at him rather than with him. (Judge me as you wish.) However, I’m several steps removed from Mr Bateman being neither male, American or a deluded, yuppie city boy. Celeste Price though is a whole other kettle of fish.

Celeste Price is a school teacher who has deliberately chosen her career so she can fulfill her sexual preference for adolescent boys. At this point, knowing that some of the people who read this blog know what I do for a living, I would like to make it clear that Celeste Price is a fictional character inspired by the Florida teacher Debra LeFave. The character that Nutting has created is a fascinating one but her teaching and behaviour bear little resemblance to teaching and teachers as I recognise them (and myself). Indeed, some of the passages were very difficult to read without feeling physically sick. Something I sure was part of Nutting’s intention.

So, Celeste Price is a highly manipulative woman. She’s married to Ford, a cop.

Like most women who marry for money, my husband is far too old. Being twenty-six myself, it’s true that he and I are close peers. But thirty-one is roughly seventeen years past my window of sexual interest.

Ford’s money does come in useful for one thing though:

Seeing the students’ actualized youth close-up made me double down on my preventative aging spa visits and my purchase of vigilant creams and potions. I cycled through the weeks of the month with oxygenating facials, DNA repair enzyme facials, caviar illuminating facials, precautionary Botox, microdermabrasion, LED light therapy. To unite body and mind for the best results possible, I always tried to envision myself literally getting younger during the treatments: I pictured my fourteen-year-old self standing off in the distance, waiting for me to come repossess her body…

Nutting gives us a reason for Price’s behaviour then but in no way excuses her. The first few chapters of the novel show Price working through her plans – offering to work in a mobile classroom outside of the main school building; befriending Janet Feinlog, a teacher who hates teenagers and seems to have few friends amongst her peers, and grooming one of her students – Jack-Patrick – for illicit liaisons.

The novel’s bound to be controversial – it’s sexually explicit and covers a highly taboo subject. However, it is very well written and – as odd as this might sound – has a cracking plot. It’s interesting to see the obstacles that Nutting puts in her protagonist’s way and the lengths that she will go to in order to continue her pursuit of under-age boys.

 

Thanks to Faber and Faber for the review copy.

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