On Alissa Nutting’s debut novel “Tampa”: So Bad She’s Good

So as a decidedly intermittent blogger (occasional blog-poster?) I feel ambivalent to weigh-in on most of the controversial news items and issues of the “day,” such as Harvey Weinstein’s sins, Donald Trump’s daily stupidities, or the blown-out-of-proportion NFL-player protests—but for the record: Just let them kneel or raise a fist or whatever? What? We’re going to force allegiance to the flag, like some kind of Soviet state? Has Putin won here too? Answer: Kind of. Part of me wants to maintain at least some modicum of originality, and only post about something that seems outside the mainstream blather. Which bring me to praise a novel I’d never heard of, and which at first I thought was the literary equivalent of a Skinemax B-movie: Alissa Nutting’s debut novel, Tampa (2013).


First off, the novel is undoubtedly very raunchy, and through much of the story, borderline laugh-out-loud funny. I might argue it vies for the award of Great Comic Sex Novel and falls short, but it comes close enough (no sex pun intended) that we have to give at least one of those slow-clap applause moments, such as after the teenage valedictorian rebels in front of the whole student body with her speech that shocks everyone, and only one acne-scarred dweeb rises to offer a standing ovation. For those interested I won’t give much away and spoil the fun, but I have to say Celeste Price, the novel’s seriously horny “heroine,” is wicked fun. She’s trashy and smart and “so bad she’s good.” The novel appears to be based in part on the much publicized case of Debra Lafave, but Celeste becomes a mythic teacher-monster, like some Greek Goddess Gone Wrong, half lesson-plan high-school teacher, half hyper-sexual zombie. It’s tawdry, smart, and daring. What’s not to like?

About williamjcobb

William J. Cobb is a novelist, essayist, and short fiction writer whose work has been published in The New Yorker, The Mississippi Review, The Antioch Review, and many others. He’s the author of two novels—The Fire Eaters (W.W. Norton 1994) and Goodnight, Texas (Unbridled 2006)—and a book of stories, The White Tattoo (Ohio State UP 2002). He has reviewed books for the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, and the New York Times. He lives in Pennsylvania and Colorado. He may be contacted at wjcobb@gmail.com.
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