52 Books: Tampa

Book #40!  It’s a casual stroll from here to the end of the year.

Anyway.  Okay, so: Alissa Nutting.

I read the first few paragraphs of one of her short stories to Canelli a little while ago.  Now I’ve decided to take the dive and read her first full novel, Tampa.  And let me tell you something, people, this book is pornographic.  Just look at the cover, for god’s sake!  It’s sexually explicit and, in parts, unhinged.  It’s also a pretty good read.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the book?  I hadn’t, but now I’ve read it and I doubt I’ll forget it.  Here’s the story from Wikipedia: Nutting went to high school with Debra Lafave, and it was Lafave who was the inspiration for Tampa‘s narrator.  Thusly, the book is about a lady who becomes a teacher just so she can stalk and fornicate with 14-year-old boys.  And she does.

Nutting’s writing is, well, inspired in some parts.  Here’s an example that I’ve trotted out to a few folks already and absolutely love.  Context: in chapter two, before the narrator, Celeste, makes a move on her chosen prey, young Jack, she’s sitting in her car across the street from his house at sunset, just, you know, stalking him (who, if I hadn’t made it clear yet, is 14 years old).

The sun had dropped low in the sky; through the tinted windows it seemed formed of brass.  I imagined Jack’s body made gigantic standing before me, the sun in the sky becoming theft metal button of his jeans.  If his enormous fingers reached down from the clouds and unbuttoned it, if his horizon-colored pants began to bunch and fall and his teenage sex of skyscraper proportions was freed, I would drive my car into his toe so he would kneel down to investigate and accidentally kill me when the sequoia-sized head of his penis came crashing through my windshield, all in the hopes that the last image seen before death is the backdrop to our eternity.

I just find this so completely over the top and bonkers, I can’t help loving it.  But–BUT–if you should decide to read this book, too, please know that most of the sexually explicit stuff isn’t as goofy or imaginative as this.  It’s desperate and deranged.  And profuse.  It’s not until about halfway through that you really start to understand what kind of monster Celeste really is.  She’s not motivated by any sort of empathy or love.  It’s all sociopathic and depraved.  She intentionally picks out the most emotionally vulnerable student in her class because she knows he’s the one she can abuse and he’ll be too confused and scared to tell anyone.

Two-thirds of the way through you start wondering how she’s going to get caught.  The narrator, as unreliable a narrator as Humbert Humbert but nowhere near as charismatic, believes she’s smarter than everyone.  But you can see all the crumbs she drops everywhere, and it’s inevitability becomes a little distracting.  And when she finally is, it’s not some twisted, thorny nest of intertwined Chekhov’s guns but rather just her naked sociopathy made bare.  Which, I guess, is fitting.

The ending is a bit distracting, too, when you realize, after having read all of Lafeve’s wikipedia page, that it’s an almost blow-by-blow retelling of Lafeve’s day in court.  Eh.

My final thought: something that, weirdly, stuck to me was that Nutting seemed really confused by what kind of car her narrator was driving.  She alternatingly referred to it as a Camaro and a Corvette.  Celeste and Jack’s first window-fogging encounter happens in the back seat of the car.  Just a few pages before, she called the car a Corvette.  Thing is: Corvette’s don’t have back seats.  (At least, they didn’t before 2003.  The book was written in 2013, so maybe they do now.  I mean, they used to have flip-up headlights, too, until the C6 came out.)  Later on, however, she refers to it as a Camaro.  Huh?

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