Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Review - Notorious Novel Is Scandalously Bad: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Review - Notorious Novel Is Scandalously Bad: News

Article excerpt

Book reduces a female teacher abusing her student to caricature.

I worry about saying how much I dislike Tampa, the new novel about a 26-year-old female teacher grooming and abusing a 14-year-old boy.

Within days of its publication, the book has already become notorious. Its author, Alissa Nutting, has spoken about how she was inspired by the case of 24-year-old Debra Lafave, a Florida teacher who, in 2005, was prosecuted for having sex with a 14-year-old student. She was convicted but escaped a jail sentence.

Nutting says that she wanted to explore the assumptions that this was a lesser crime than equivalent abuse by a male teacher, and that any teenage boy would be overjoyed to have sex with an attractive teacher.

She therefore set out to make Tampa as explicit as possible: she wanted to show exactly what a teacher-predator might be doing to a teenage boy.

To say that you dislike Tampa, therefore, is to open yourself to accusations of prudishness, or of wanting to sweep the more troubling extremes of sexuality (and, particularly, female sexuality) under the carpet.

But I do not dislike Tampa because I am a prude. I think its subject matter is important, and exploring it properly through fiction could be an extremely valuable exercise. I dislike Tampa because it is an excruciatingly bad book.

Its prose is at once lumpen and breathless: "My whole body yearned with the tincture of possibility", for example, or "I turned the car engine on so the air-conditioning could blow its well-intentioned breaths."

That alone would be forgivable if there were a gripping plot or well-drawn characters. Instead, we have 26-year-old Celeste Price, who has trained to be a teacher purely so that she can have ready access to 14-year-old boys.

The night before she begins her new job, she masturbates furiously. Earlier, she had walked into her empty classroom and rubbed herself over her new desk, "reaching up my dress to the clear ink pad between my legs . …

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