Book Notes: Alissa Nutting’s Tampa

I read the following comment on a blog I follow last week and felt intrigued:

A lot of women’s writing that’s considered subversive falls within acceptable parameters —  she’s not really bad, her circumstances made her that way — and usually comes with a lack of power. The last book I read that subverts many of those tropes was Alissa Nutting’s Tampa, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me uncomfortable because it was so unrecognizable.

I spent years studying female Bildungsromane, so I’m desperate – just literally, desperate – for a novel with a female protagonist who has any other goal in life than infantilizing herself. The problem is, as the linked blogger points out, any female characters in contemporary fiction who are not totally pathetic, only manage to find some strength as a result of trauma or something bad happening to them. So I decided to check out this novel to see if it was, indeed, unrecognizable.

The bad news: the novel is the opposite of unrecognizable. For those of you who are fellow Hispanists, I have 4 words: The Ages of Lulu. And now that my Spanish-speaking readers have already died of boredom and switched to another window in their densely populated browsers, I can tell everybody else what I mean.

There is this trend in contemporary novels about women where the female protagonist goes to extreme lengths in order to infantilize herself. Many people don’t notice that about these books, however, and consider it hugely subversive, “empowering”, and all kinds of sad crap because the heroine engages in tons of very outrageous sex. It’s like “has lots of sex” translates into “is powerful, feminist, and subversive” in many people’s heads. This is so 1960s that it bores me even to talk about it. 

So in Tampa, we see a character who is a pedophile and engages in endless, and very graphically and painstakingly described sex acts with 14-year-old boys. The reason why she does it is because she is terrified of growing up. Just like every other boring heroine of every other boring Bildungsroman from the past 3 decades. And so that’s what the novel is about. 268 pages of sex with boys. And then the novel mercifully ends.

I’m not unhappy I checked it out because I keep being told that my discipline is not real science because my conclusions are not falsifiable. And it’s not true. I don’t trade in “subjective opeeenions.” The only reason why I picked up the book was to see if it was going to prove me wrong. It didn’t but it’s not outside the realm of probability that it could. 

If you do decide to read the book, please do not tell me that it hurts the feelings of the pedophile community because of the incorrectness of its depictions of pedophiliac sex. I’ve faced my fair share of that argument in the discussions of 50 Shades of Grey.

Author: Alissa Nutting

Title: Tampa

Year of publication: 2014

My rating: 2 out of 10 (because it proved me right and there were a couple of apt observations about boredom that I enjoyed)

12 thoughts on “Book Notes: Alissa Nutting’s Tampa

  1. Lol! We certainly wouldn’t want to offend the pedophile community. I am so tired of the forever offended masses. (For which, I will probably be ripped to pieces and barbecued. Whatever.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In my semi monthly tours of the bookstore, I picked up the book and put it down again, without reading the blurb. Thanks for the review, will not be reading this one because Peter Pan characters are boring.


  3. Sort of OT:

    This guy notices the symptoms but doesn’t know how to put the pieces together. I might leave a comment.

    Best point (for me): The significance of the Clinton email thing is that you have a governmnet representative privatizing their communication system to do government work. Not something you normally expect in a first world country. I had completely missed that: Even the government is disinvesting from state apparatus….


    1. I haven’t thought about the email scandal much but this is a great observation. The private has truly colonized the public. When I read Zygmunt Bauman on this 10 years ago, I thought he was crazy. And now we are all seeing this happen.


  4. On the book. I’m not defending it, nor have I read it, but your comments raise an interesting question. We have had almost an epidemic of generally younger teachers over the last several years being caught in affairs with their under age students. Does this book offer an explanation for this?

    Are we having people turn to elementary and secondary teaching because they don’t want to deal with adult relationships?


    1. “Are we having people turn to elementary and secondary teaching because they don’t want to deal with adult relationships?”

      • This is precisely how this novel explains it. The protagonist hates adulthood and is clinging to an illusion of eternal adolescence. She is married, and the novel shows how intolerable she finds the need to construct an adult relationship with a grown person.


  5. Have you read Alicia Erian’s novel? Traumatic things do happen to the protagonist, but it doesn’t define the narrative and I’m not sure if it’s a bildung. The protagonist doesn’t quite understand the implications of everything that happens and is not interested in infantilizing herself. It’s incredibly disturbing and I wouldn’t recommend it to any kid, no matter how advanced.


  6. “I spent years studying female Bildungsromane, so I’m desperate – just literally, desperate – for a novel with a female protagonist who has any other goal in life than infantilizing herself.” Have you tried The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna?


      1. It is not high literature. Brenna usually writes children’s books for younger readers, and The White Bicycle is a Bildungsroman she wrote a couple years ago.


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