Tampa by Alissa Nutting: reviewed by Brian McElmurry
At 7 in the morning, I found it as an Ebook on amazon for $1.99 while waiting in a hospital and read it on my iPhone (kindle app) most of the day between looking after a loved one.
Her husband is a cop who has a rich father who the narrator married for his money and loathes him. When having to have sex with him (when she couldn’t placate him otherwise) she take sedatives and drinks so to barely remember the horrendous deed of sex with this old person, who is only 31 and is well shown in the book: a character who says “babe” and wants to double date on a bowling night. The mindset of the predator, as she is, is so unapologetic and rationalizing that while an unlikeable narrator—her pure unapologetic voice makes her somewhat likeable. The psychological elements presented how she is constantly doing spa treatments and facial creams to combat aging, the grossed-out descriptions of her imagining a middle aged couple having sex, the obsession over the eighth grade boys (once trying to breakup a fight of two boys hoping to get pulled into their sweaty pile of bodies, and disappointed when that didn’t happen)—all create the certain mindset that drives that book and character. While reading it, I felt like the unapologetic voice reminded me of a Bret Easton Ellis voice, harsh and narcissistic, but not completely unlikeable. And also felt reminded of Dennis Cooper for obvious reasons. But her writing, the female obsession with little details and rituals that a man may not take such pleasures in. While never reading Lolita, there are obvious connections, yet with a female narrator the victims actual hurt is questioned to some extent. While the narrator, Celeste, vets and seduces her victims, it obviously seems manipulative and a power play. Her mindset and maneuvering seem wrong, but to her eighth grade victim, it is a fantasy. I certainly had sexual fantasies about a few teachers when I was in middle school. And even once she seduces her victim it seems maybe like, “what eighth grade boy wouldn’t want this?” But as the story continues, every incident, every close call or sketchy thing that happens until the obvious conclusion (that isn’t actually what you’d expect) but shows they are victims—and deeply deeply affected like any abused person would be. The prose is astounding. Giving just the right amount of detail and snark and justifications. It seems like a perfectly written book from build up to denouement to description to tone to its harsh subject matter in an unapologetic voice and a mindset that is deeply off. I couldn’t put it down, and though I had awoken about 4am and needed a nap, I didn’t nap, finishing the book right before I had to make dinner for my wife. Now I just wish I had a hard copy for my book shelf.