Literary Controversy: Tampa – Amanda Nutting

Get ready for a firestorm of argument about this one. I haven’t been so conflicted about a book since I read American Psycho. It’s getting a lot of comps to Lolita in that it’s a story of sexual predation written by a writer with solid literary chops. It’s an updated turn on the convention of  men preying on young girls and the narrative voice is being compared to Gone Girl—this is as chilling a look at a sociopath as you’re likely to find.

For a look at both sides of the debate, check out these advance reviews.

Tampa is one of the most shocking books I have read; it’s also one of the most mesmerizing and surprising. I expected to be disturbed, even appalled; what I did not expect in this story of a female teacher fixated on 14-year-old boys was lyricism and black humor. Alissa Nutting has written a stunning, brutal book, one that will generate considerable discussion. I can’t stop talking about Tampa.”
— Marilyn Dahl, Editor of Shelf Awareness

“ A middle school teacher in Tampa, Fla., goes to outrageous lengths to hide her voracious sexual appetite for adolescent boys. Nutting certainly brought dark overtones to her story collection Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls (2010), but even that auspicious debut pales next to the unclean psyche at the heart of her first novel. In a story that makes Nicholson Baker’s work look hygienic by comparison, Nutting unleashes a devious temptress ….For decades, transgressive fiction has traditionally been grim, male and graphic. For those few voices asking why there aren’t more women working in this swamp, this one’s for you.”

“Unlike American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, Celeste is aware of her depravity—she fears that were she to work as a model, as some suggest, photos would capture ‘a soulless pervert’—but she indulges anyway….When Celeste’s usual caution erodes, all might be lost were this young woman not lover and fighter both. Nutting’s work creates a solid impression of Celeste’s psychopathic nature but, unlike the much richer Lolita, leaves the reader feeling empty.”
Publishers Weekly

“Alissa Nutting’s mind-blowing debut, Tampa, is, like Nabokov’s Lolita, a story of illicit sexual obsession and corrupted innocence; its narrator a highly literate adult who preys on early adolescents. But Tampa is a slimy, sticky inversion of the classic old-man-meets-young-girl scenario…. Celeste keeps getting away with it for the same reason that you’ll keep reading about her: she’s abhorrent, but she’s fascinatingand Nutting has announced herself as a writer who is as gifted as she is bold”
Shelf Awareness (It’s worth reading the complete review here.)

If you want to get a feel for the controversy that is likely to greet this title, scroll through some of the comments on Goodreads. The debate should be interesting. Tampa has been assigned for review in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, N+1, Redbook and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. 

Tampa (9780062280541) by Alissa Nutting. $25.99 hardcover. 7/2/13 on sale.

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