Tampa by Alissa Nutting
This is by far the smuttiest book I’ve ever read. Just look at that cover, guys. The main character, Celeste, is a middle-school English teacher who has sex with her students. She’s a first person narrator, and her every thought is either a sex fantasy, a strategy for having sex and getting away with it, or a complaint about how bored she is with everything that’s not sex. It’s hard for me to imagine having a libido as all-consuming as Celeste’s. I listened to the audiobook, and the actress, Kathleen McInerney, read the whole thing in a voice that just seemed soaked in porn. Some of the “sexy” things Celeste does and thinks are so over-the-top that they have to be intended as humor because no one could really find them sexy (I hope). At the same time, though, some other scenes and descriptions were very sexy indeed, which makes the reader feel complicit and icky.
It’s a sex-reversed Lolita, but Celeste is much less lovey-dovey, sentimental, and poetic than Humbert Humbert. She never sees her young lovers as anything but sex objects, only thinks about their feelings in so far as their feelings determine when she’ll get off next. Even before beginning her relationship with a student, she’s decided that she’ll end things before the boy’s puberty reaches a certain point because then she’ll no longer be attracted to him. One of her boys seems to fall in love with her, and is incredibly emotionally damaged by the affair, but she doesn’t seem to care at all.
The comparison to Lolita makes the sexual double standard crystal clear, especially in the ending (spoiler alert: she gets away with it). The book reminded me of the episode of South Park where little Ike was having sex with his kindergarten teacher, and everyone’s reaction to the news was, “Nice.”
One theme that’s more deeply relevant for non-pedophilic women is Celeste’s fixation on youth in general. She’s only 26 but has an aggressive anti-aging beauty regimen in place. She finds the body of anyone older than about 30 to be physically repulsive and dreads her own maturation to the point of contemplating suicide to avoid it. She’s a very beautiful woman, and her beauty gives her a feeling of entitlement and specialness that she fears losing with age. She’s a trophy wife to a shallow cop with a trust fund, and describes their marriage as a show she puts on for his friends in exchange for a plush lifestyle. Celeste is a monster, but she’s the monster that our youth-obsessed culture made her.