Book Review of Tampa: Is Tampa Disturbing and Uncomfortable?

Shannon Waite
4 min readJun 28, 2023

PREFACE: If this is your first trip to my blog, I write a lot of transgressive fiction and my blog posts are resources for other transgressive writers. I offer book reviews, transgressive topics for inspiration, research on social change, and creative writing techniques. www.shannonwaiteauthor.com The review below is meant to explore this novel as a transgressive fiction text. Welcome!

Okay, so, wow. Yes. I got caught up in reading Tampa and felt so uncomfortable - in a way that I’ve never felt when reading a book before.

Tampa by Alyssa Nutting is about Celeste, a 26-year-old, ‘bombshell’ middle school teacher, who is sex obsessed — but not with her husband or other men (or women for that matter) — but with adolescent boys. The story follows her first year and a half of teaching middle school, and selecting boys to sleep with.

I will be the first to admit that I like weird, dark stuff, but Tampa by Alyssa Nutting was something else.

Every sex scene (which took up a large chunk of the book) was written like a regular sex scene, something that could be found in an adult romance/erotic novel or a movie. In one way, this way of describing the sex Celeste was having made the scenes seem normal after a while — the author did not shy away from it — which also led to me feeling disgusted when I’d remind myself it wasn’t normal because these were kids in the scenes. That’s where the complications of this book lay — a story in normal language, relatively ‘normal’ events, but with characters who should not be in those situations, participating in those events. Sometimes I had to replace the boys with adult men in my mind to read the scenes. Nutting does not spare readers of any dirty details or fantasies that her narrator has.

Nutting expertly weaves in Celeste’s obsession and manipulations, making her interactions with her students (and other adults in the novel) obviously disturbing.

This book was especially hard for me as a former high school teacher. It had me feeling completely ‘wrong’ for even reading it — but that’s what makes this book excellent. It’s disgusting, but expertly executed to make it disgusting. I read a lot of transgressive fiction, but have never felt as repulsed by it as this one (and I recognize part of that is my own experiences impacting my feelings — other people’s experiences might have them feeling disgusted with other books) but it did something that most transgressive fiction actually doesn’t do to me. So while this one grossed me out when most books or movies don’t, and I can call it disgusting, it was great. Throughout it, I still wanted to know what was going to happen (although I did feel the ending could have been fleshed out a little more).

Nutting does a great job creating her characters. With the first-person narration, we get to understand the way Celeste’s mind and manipulations work. Nutting also creates an easily hate-able main character, but in a story so rooted in injustice, that I was left desperate for some sense of justice so it kept me engaged and reading. If you’re up for something dark and for an engaging read, I recommend this book.

This book is a perfect example of where Coco D’Hont (in her book Extreme States: The Evolution of American Transgressive Fiction 1960–2000, 2020) talks about transgressive fiction not prompting social change. Tampa is certainly transgressive, for so many reasons, though I can’t imagine it redeveloping society and pedophiles. Not every story is meant to change people though, right? Sometimes a story is just a story, for entertainment, to convey information, whatever.

(But sometimes people might want to change something in society, so that’s where my research falls. How could someone write a transgressive story that can make change? Still working on the answer to that… In the meantime, we get books like this that continue to bring its readers closer to all parts of humanity.)

I’ve seen other reviews compare it to Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and I can agree that they both have a pedophile using manipulation, but I will say I was actually much more engaged in this book than I was when I read Lolita, and this one disgusted me more. Again, maybe because it hit so close to home with my own gender and professional career. Tampa had me feeling dirty and intrigued. If you don’t think you’re morally above this ‘wrong’ behavior, and interested in something that could make your skin crawl, I definitely recommend this.

I bought my copy off a used book website and was surprised to find, when I got it, that I had actually gotten someone’s signed copy. As Nutting herself so aptly says in her comment to “Gavin”, enjoy this awful book.

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Shannon Waite

Shannon Waite is an author focused on transgression and social change and, largely, how to combine the two. www.shannonwaiteauthor.com