Celeste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She is attractive. She drives a red Corvette. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed and devoted to her. But Celeste has a secret. She has a singular sexual obsession - fourteen-year-old boys. It is a craving she pursues with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought.
Within weeks of her first term at a new school, Celeste has lured the charmingly modest Jack Patrick into her web - car rides after dark, rendezvous at Jack's house while his single father works the late shift, and body-slamming encounters in Celeste's empty classroom between periods. It is bliss.
Celeste must constantly confront the forces threatening their affair - the perpetual risk of exposure, Jack's father's own attraction to her, and the ticking clock as Jack leaves innocent boyhood behind. But the insatiable Celeste is remorseless. She deceives everyone, is close to no one and cares little for anything but her pleasure.
With crackling, stampeding, rampantly sexualized prose, Tampa is a grand, satirical, serio-comic examination of desire and a scorching literary debut.
In Nutting's graphic first novel (after her story collection, Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls), soon-to-be eighth-grade English teacher Celeste Price can barely contain her excitement about her adolescent boys; the 26-year-old passes the night "in an excited loop of hushed masturbation" while her good-looking but dull-witted husband slumbers. Celeste's mind is as pragmatic as her body is luscious, and her patience ("I had to regard the students like a delicate art exhibit and stay six feet away at all times, lest I be tempted to touch") pays off. Before long, she coaxes shy Jack into what becomes the first of many liaisons. 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. Her bold choice of meeting Jack at his house after school leads to unsurprising complications, as does the boy's budding love. 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.