You’ve likely heard the buzz surrounding Alissa Nutting’s debut novel, Tampa (Ecco, 2013), the story of 26-year-old teacher Celeste Price having an affair with one of her students.
Those who read Tampa may recognize the mirror image of both Nutting’s main character to the the real-life case of Debra LaFave. LaFave and Nutting attended Bloomindale High School, but Nutting stresses the character of her book wasn’t inspired by LaFave at all.
Nor is Tampa a biopic of an actual human being despite citing media attention surrounding LaFave’s relationship with a 14-year-old boy putting the subject of female sexual predators on Nutting’s radar.
The buzz – and some degree of controversy – surrounding Tampa piqued my own curiosity; its contents are very intense and sexually explicit, but no excuses are made as to why or how Celeste became a sociopath with a sexual obsession with teenage boys. As in LaFave’s case, if a female predator is attractive, chances of getting away with such a crime are somewhat increased.
This book reads like real life with strong prose and excellent character development. Be warned, however; this is not a book for the fainthearted. Tampa goes deep in exploring the mind of a sociopath and society’s emphasis on female beauty, with extra shock value thrown in, yet the book’s dark humor is mesmerizing, stunning, and – one can say – brutally honest. Not many debut novels come out strong, but Tampa is one of those rare exceptions.