New Fiction: Made for Love – Alissa Nutting

Nutting likes to push boundaries—and buttons. Her first novel, Tampa, was a dark satire about an eighth-grade teacher’s affair with a student. It was a high-wire performance that repelled some readers and made others fans for life.

This new novel, while less polarizing, is no less a daring satire. It’s the story of an aimless young woman trying to escape her marriage to the founder and sinister CEO of a far-reaching tech company. (It’s hard not to think Google when the company is named “Gogol.”)

Having literally escaped her husband’s high security compound, she arrives at the door of her elderly father’s Florida trailer where he has taken up residence with a life-size blow-up doll in the aftermath of his wife’s death. Then things get weirder.

There’s a secondary plot about a handsome con man who gets his sexual wires crossed after being molested by a dolphin. (Yes, I said that.) Eventually his story intertwines with Hazel’s and results in an absurdist romp about technology, the mind and free will.  It’s bracing, laugh out loud social satire in the vein of Nell Zink.

Nutting deftly exploits the comic potential of perverse attachments, here to sex dolls, aquatic mammals, and technological devices…. The story begins after a woman, Hazel, has fled her controlling husband, Byron, a cold-blooded, germaphobic, and distinctly un-Byronic tech titan who treated his electronics like lesser wives.’ Hazel takes refuge in her father’s trailer park home, vastly different from her former lodging, ‘the Hub,’ Byron’s sterile compound that is at once a prison, spa, and hospital. Living with her father and his recently purchased sex doll, Hazel hopes to avoid Byron’s near-omniscient gaze and forge a new, unsurveilled, and thrillingly unhygienic life…. [A] witty portrait of a woman desperate to reconnect with her humanity.
Publishers Weekly, “Best Summer Books of 2017”

“[O]ne of the funniest, most absurd books you’ll read this summer…. Hilarious, clever, and strikingly original, Made for Love speaks to the absurdity of our societal obsessions with technology and wealth.”
   — Buzzfeed

“There is no one who negotiates the absurd as vigorously yet poignantly as Alissa Nutting. In her second novel, Made For Love, Nutting explores the loneliness of a future overly mediated by technology through a tremendous romp involving Hazel, trying to leave her tech mogul husband Byron even though his reach knows no bounds. There are sex dolls and a senior citizen trailer park and brain chips and a con man who loves dolphins and still, the story makes sense like a motherfucker. Brilliant, dense, hilarious writing that hurtles toward an ending that is both satisfying and unexpected.”
— Roxane Gay

“Oh god I just love every page. It’s fantastic.”
— Lynda Barry

“After devouring Nutting’s deliciously dysfunctional debut, Tampa, I consider myself a devotee to her particular brand of cringe-worthy absurdity. Nutting masterfully navigated the sticky complexities of human sexuality once before so I trusted her, implicitly, to take me there again. She, as expected, did not disappoint…. Equal parts sinister and hilarious, eccentric and affecting, Nutting manages to craft an arresting and outrageous puzzle that is far more than the sum of its parts.”
— Tara Bagnola, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

Made for Love (9780062280558) by Alissa Nutting. $26.99 hardcover. 7/4/17 on sale.

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.”
Kirkus

“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.