A Group Discussion of Tampa (or “Oh, this is awkward.”)

Kathy, Christy, Kim and I read Tampa by Alissa Nutting for the second installment of our Sisterhood of the Traveling Book Club series.  Tampa was my choice (I’m sorry, ladies!)  Below is our discussion.  Obviously, there are spoilers.  (Key: I am black; Kathy is red; Kim is purple; Christy is pink.)

Bottom line: We all appreciated the book, even though we were all squicked out and in need of mind-bleach.  It’s a brilliant book and none of us have people to recommend it to. I think we need t-shirts that say “I SURVIVED TAMPA” on the front and “You probably couldn’t” on the back.

Chapter 1:

I was initially very excited to read this book and was sure that while it would be intense and challenging, it wouldn’t be hard to read. This first chapter made a liar of my expectations. It was a lot more graphic than I was expecting and not really creepy, like I thought it would be— more icky and reading it is making me feel complicit. Celeste’s head is not a good place to be. Even so, Alissa Nutting’s style is fantastic. This isn’t a love story at all.  It’s a sexual predator finding a victim so obviously this shouldn’t be an easy read.

Being a mom, I was a little leery about starting this book. I really don’t want to know what goes on in the mind of a person like Celeste.  I’ve read some pretty smutty stuff before, but I have to agree with Kelly on this—it’s just creepy.  I can see what you guys mean about the writing though. It is very well written, and while it’s very uncomfortable to read at times, I am so curious to see what’s going to happen next.

So I told myself I would just read the first two chapters today and that would be it. And I’m not even through the first ten pages and I’m already profoundly uncomfortable. It’s just so explicit. Like Kelly said, I thought it would be a challenging read, but not necessarily a difficult one. Ten pages in and I’ve already been proven wrong! I think I’m going to struggle with this one.

I know! I was totally, “Oh, I can handle this! I read Forbidden! I love horror movies! I got this!” Hahahahaha. Well played, Alissa Nutting.

I am sorry but “he always wants to ruin the landscape’ may have caused me to chuckle a bit. Celeste has some dark humour and I LOVE that. The fact that she’s calculated her career to have access to eighth grade boys specifically shows EXACTLY why she’s a predator. She’s already shown how cunning and calculating she is (the extension classroom anyone). She shows a bit of self awareness here ‘ Their urges would grow up right alongside them like a shadow. They’d never feel their libido a deformed thing to be kept chained up in the attic of their mind and to only be fed in secret after dark’. She knows her desires are messed up, but is helpless to act on them anyways. It adds a layer, and goes without saying that Alissa Nutting is a fantastic writer. She’s what Lainey from Lainey Gossip (check out her site if you haven’t) calls a “First Book Bitch”. A young, beautiful women who releases a stellar first novel that immediately makes you jealous. Alissa in chapter one shows she is going to hit it out of the park.

Chapter 2:

Holy crap. Almost in spite of myself, I’m impressed at the level of thought and planning she puts into this. She’s very careful and knows exactly the type of boy she needs to pick. At the same time, though, it sounds like he was completely the opposite when she was student teaching—very indiscreet. Hallway gropings? It’s a miracle she wasn’t arrested or asked to leave the school. The fact that her husband’s a cop is interesting, too. I wonder if that comes into play later. If nothing else, her “inside info” may help her hide her tracks better.

The relationship between Celeste and her husband is so weird. Apparently he is a pretty boy, but I kind of just see him as disgusting. I’m interesting to see how being a cop is going to work into the story.  Here we really get to see the stalker coming out in Celeste. Sitting outside Jacks house with binoculars, doing her business while people are walking past her car? Freaky!

I’m also seeing Celeste’s husband as gross, but then again, I’m seeing him through her eyes and she is certainly not attracted to him. What I found interesting so far were her thoughts on aging and near obsession with physical appearance. Other people don’t seem to register to her as actual people with feelings – they’re objects. Her talk about souls was interesting too. So even though she’s repulsive, I am also a bit fascinated with the way she thinks and sees the world. And she’s even kind of funny. Oh boy.

I think we are being tainted by Celeste’s point of view. From all descriptions, Ford sounds like an attractive man. I think because Celeste thinks he’s gross, we do. She’s totally becoming obsessed with Jack. Kim is right, She’s totally funny, and it’s this part of her that makes me uncomfortable, because you can see how you might like her, if you didn’t know the rest of her. She’s sarcastic, and intelligent. I love the subtext about women aging and society. Celeste makes a good point talking about how people view female aging (and of course makes it about herself and her desires because she can not think of anyone but herself). ‘There was no way for women, for anyone, to gracefully age. After a certain point, any detail like the woman’s cheerleader hairstyle that implied youth simply looked ridiculous. Despite her athletic prowess, the jogger’s cratered thighs seemed more like something that would die one day than something that would not. I didn’t know how long I had before this window slammed down on my fingers as well – with diligence, and avoiding children, perhaps a decade. The older I became, the harder it would be to get what I wanted, but that was probably true of everyone with everything.’

Chapter 3:

I’m wondering how Celeste’s marriage to Ford works. She hates him, clearly just values his money and rarely has sex with him—and also drugs him, but he doesn’t know that. Does he love her? Or is she basically a trophy wife? Also, she’s pretty clearly spiraling and not being very careful. At this point, I can’t imagine she won’t get caught.  She’s taking a lot of chances and behaving recklessly and she hasn’t even done anything illegal yet. It’s almost like she pictures herself as having more self-control than she actually does.

I’m really not sure what to think about the interaction between Celeste and Trevor in this chapter. He was trying really hard to get her attention. I have to wonder what that was about. For some reason, I wasn’t really surprised to discover that Celeste had drugs readily available.

Here she is again being self aware. She won’t model because she’s afraid of the photographer capturing the real her…which she claims in a soulless pervert. She also mentions wishing her genitals were a prosthetic she could slip out of. She’s both a slave to her desires, and aware that what she desires is wrong (at least by society standards). Alissa captured this well, often people who are committing crimes know exactly what they are doing. ‘Attraction creates powerful feelings. It overrules intellect” You don’t say Celeste. Trevor seemed to want her to pay attention to him. It’s obvious he might have a little crush.

Chapter 4:

I wonder if Frank Pachenko knows something. Although when you’re talking about inappropriate sexual relationships, especially between adults and kids, it’s not strange to think of teachers/students. Especially in the last few years, it seems like every school year has at least a handful of these stories nationwide. Generally, though, it happens in high school and it’s the inverse of this book: a male teacher and a female student. His mom also seems like a very involved parent. It’s probably very smart of her to keep her out of the classroom.

The scene in the classroom between Celeste and Jack freaked me out a little. I wanted to yell at him to RUN! I’m really curious to see how he is going to react to her attempts later in the book.  It was very uncomfortable for me to read.  The story of Gary Felding snapping during Open House at school was kind of funny. Dealing with parents at my kid’s school, I kind of know that feeling!  Also, is it just me, or did anyone else NEVER have a teacher talk about sex this much when we were in school???

Barring health class, no. NEVER. And we read Othello, which is pretty sexy. But no, no discussion, really. Maybe it’s different now.

Nope, no sex talk. Not to this extent. Health class, and that was the bare basics (like how to prevent pregnancy, STDs etc, and basic health issues). I can’t even recall reading anything overtly sexy (we didn’t read Othello).

She’s making me laugh again because she doesn’t even bother to learn the jock guys names because they are too ‘developed to be appealing’. Oh, Celeste. See, NOBODY MATTERS TO CELESTE BUT CELESTE. This is her mantra and the entire book is basically her being narcissistic.

She’s incredibly bold here. She’s obviously spiraling and being really uncareful. She’s flat out trying to seduce Jack.

I am laughing about Gary Felding’s complete meltdown.The Bunsen burning of his tie and shirt. HAHA.

Getting Frank’s mother out of there is another smart move on Celeste’s part. Pawning her off on Janet is also hilarious. Janet is going to drive Frank’s mother nuts (or perhaps they will LOVE each other). Interesting that Frank brings up teacher/student sex as taboo. I am with Kelly, does he suspect something? Or is it just that it’s become all too common?

Chapter 5:

I seriously don’t get how she hasn’t gotten caught. She’s parked in front of Jack’s house three times (that we know of; there definitely could have been more visits) and hung out. I know she said that her windows were tinted, but seriously–no nosy neighbors? Nobody sees that there’s a strange car that parks there every so often but nobody gets out of the car? And the driver just loiters for probably at least ten minutes before leaving? That’s probably a stalker, right? But definitely someone up to no good.

Wow this is totally an obsession. It takes over her whole Saturday, with the planning, deciding what to wear, when to drive to Jack’s house…she has this one single thing she is focused on and nothing else seems to matter. At the same time, she seems to know that other people would think what she’s doing is wrong and is definitely paranoid about being ‘found out’.

She’s obsessed for sure. I have got to agree with Kelly. How has nobody noticed this strange vehicle parked outside Jack’s house? How has Jack’s parents (or father) not noticed?

I agree, I don’t understand how people didn’t notice the car sitting there. It’s not something that would happen in my neighborhood, that’s for sure. And spying on him during his, um, private moment? That was just gross.

Chapter 6:

HOLY CRAP. I can’t even believe what happened! There is almost no way that she’ll be able to not get caught. She is being so obvious and taking so many risks. And she’s gambling her entire life on the discretion of a teenage boy. How old are eighth graders? 13 or 14? That is brave and stupid in equal measure. It may sound like I’m worried for her but I hope she does get caught. Even she realizes that there’s something wrong with her (comment earlier about people noticing she’s a soulless pervert). I can’t see how she’d get away with it.

WOW as if that just happened.

She seems so certain that she’s going to be caught.

WOW is right. She’s going to get caught. She’s pretty brazen. Her narcissism is showing again. She literally wants to be his sexual yardstick.

‘Like a tollbooth in his memory, every partner he’d have afterwards would have to pass through the gate of my comparison, and it would be a losing equation. The numbers could never be as favorable as they were right now, when his naivety would be subtracted from my experience to produce the largest sum of astonishment possible.’

She wants to be remembered, and favourably too. She wants to make an impression.

The whole scene where the principal comes to talk about Janet made me chuckle. She was so sure she was going to get caught and yet it ends with the principal telling her the kids are lucky to have her as a teacher.

Yeah, I don’t see how she thinks she is going to get away with it either. I totally expected her to be busted by now; if not for the stalking, then for all of the sex talk with the kids or something.  This is just wrong, on so many different levels!

Chapter 7:

HOLY CRAP. I am now pretty sure that she’ll get caught over at his house. She’s been over there multiple times, her car is distinctive and Frank Pachenko (and his nosy mother) live right across the street. I am reconsidering my earlier impression that she’s shrewd. She’s not dumb but she’s way too impulsive and that’ll be her undoing (good). Also, I think she tried to reassure herself that she isn’t really damaging Jack but I think his stance on their affair will probably change when he’s older. Now he’s happy that he’s having sex but he’ll regret it later.

Jack is totally going to regret this later on. It’ll scar him. You are right Kelly, she’s not dumb but she is being reckless.

Ew, ew, ewwww… It actually happened! I was hoping that I would get through the whole book with her just fantasizing about it, but there it is. I left like I needed to pour bleach in my eyes to clean them.  Also, I can’t believe they are even discussing her going to his house when his dad isn’t home. Argh! This kid is totally going to be scarred for life.

Chapter 8

HOLY CRAP AGAIN! This is why you need to be careful! It will be a miracle if she manages to get away with this (please pay attention, Mr. Patrick). Also (and this is something I didn’t learn until college), if someone won’t say they love you, THEY DON’T LOVE YOU.

Oh my gosh he’s talking love and long term relationship and marriage. This is going to be very big trouble.

The whole interaction with drunk Ford unsettled me. I heard somewhere that cops have the highest potential for spousal abuse. I find it interesting that Ford is literally being driven crazy by Celeste and her actions.

Jack is quickly falling for her, and is ‘in love’ (to a teenager anyways). Celeste’s change of conversation everytime he brings up the future, or anything like that is overtly obvious. I am surprised Jack doesn’t pick up on it. She is basically saying there will not be a future, and he is blissfully unaware.

I am totally expecting Ford to catch onto something soon. She is just acting WAY to weird. I have to feel bad for the guy for the way she treats him.  I can’t believe she is actually at Jack’s house. And doing things that they shouldn’t be doing!  I totally agree that if someone won’t tell you that they love you, then they never will.

Chapter 9:

I don’t even know where to begin with this. I can’t believe Jack wants Celeste to pretend to date his dad and I have an even harder time with the fact that she’s okay with it (because it means more/easier access to Jack). How is ahe getting away with it? Is everyone an idiot? Or is she just missing really obvious signs?

Wow what an awkward dinner. Jack’s father is creepy.

Jack’s youth and inexperience is showing. I can’t believe he wants her to date his FATHER. *shudder*. Even if it’s pretend, as Celeste says, most adult relationships involve sex. The dinner meet up was awkward and I was left scratching my head because HOW IS NOBODY QUESTIONING ANYTHING?!

Jack’s father is such a perv. The thought of Celeste dating him is just about as disgusting as her dating Jack. Ewww….

Chapter 10:

Wow. I am so glad to be reading this on my Kindle although I keep hoping no one looks at my screen. There are so many different ways Celeste could be caught and I’m not even certain that there won’t be a ton of new ways ro get caught soon. I feel so bad for Ford; this has to be the world’s worst marriage.

I feel like she’s taking more and more risks. I can’t imagine that she won’t somehow be caught.

Um….anyone else icked out by Celeste mentioning the many reasons she does not want a kid and one of them being (I’ll quote it) ‘There was an impulse of self protection surrounding the decision as well; I know if I ever had a son, at a certain age it would be impossible to ignore him, and I never wanted to force that transgression upon myself’. She is basically admitting that she couldn’t even stop herself from touching her own son. It’s got this bad of a sway over her.

Jack is starting to get jealous of his dad. Wanting to know if Celeste will see him while Jack is visiting his mother. Not good, and teenage feelings are already out of control.

I do sort of feel bad that she had to drug herself to get through her husband touching her. I know I shouldn’t, but I do anyways. (Side note, cranberry mimosas sound delish).

Yes, I too was pretty disgusted about her confession of ever having a son of her own.  That’s just wrong, on so, so, so many levels.  I feel really bad for Ford as well. How in the world did he ever get involved with this woman?

Chapter 11:

I am beginning to suspect that Celeste is a wizard. She GETS CAUGHT with Jack and still gets away with it! Although having sex with Jack’s dad and then the anal sex…well, not really getting off scot-free. I also am enjoying all the dramatic irony. “You’re just a good person,” Janet says. Oh, Janet, you have no idea.

Oh no. This whole thing with Jack and his dad and Celeste is just way too icky.

As this whole mess of Celeste, Jack and Jack’s dad progresses it is mind boggling how she is getting away with this. She’s certainly clever. Jack taking the photo showed how young he really is “I have to have more than he does”. I wanted to be like “Are you twelve?” But really…he basically is.HOW has she still not managed to get caught? Oh yea, because she was caught by a perv! Gah!

Chapter 12:

HOLY CRAP AGAIN. I thought Celeste had shown about how awful she could be but deliberately letting Jack’s dad die? And maybe not even getting that this might be hard for Jack? I don’t think the fact that he won’t get to have sex with you for a while compares to the fact that his dad is dead. I think she may be an actual sociopath.

Yeah this chapter was just…I don’t even know. Just when I think the worst thing has happened, another worst thing comes along! And playing on that whole ‘us vs them’ mentality – she’s just so twisted.

Celeste reacts when people don’t find into the mold SHE wants them to. Jack especially. She doesn’t want his sexual tastes to mature, she doesn’t like that he’s able to lie and mislead. It erases the innocence she loves about him. Again. IT IS ALL ABOUT HER.

Yup, pretty sure she’s a sociopath. Self preservation is her main agenda, and letting Jack’s father die was the best option for her. Even after his death she’s thinking about what this will mean for her. She’s not thinking of how hard this is going to be on Jack. She’s just worried he won’t touch her, or that it won’t be the same. She’s calm, calculating and totally unaffected by what just happened.

I can’t believe that just happened! How could she just stand there and let Jack’s dad die? What the hell?

I still feel bad for Ford. He really is trying!

Chapter 13:

I’m starting to worry she’ll get away with it. Also, and this occurred to me when I was driving home, you know how we all make ourseves the heroine in our own thoughts? She doesn’t do that. She’s very aware of who and what she is and she doesn’t try to portray this as a great love story for the ages. I give her credit for, at the very least, being a reliable narrator. It’s a bold choice that Alissa Nutting made there.

Wow she’s already looking to replace Jack. Cold! But then again, as the reader, we’ve known from the start that she is not in this for love or a long-term thing.

Can I just highlight, and star, and favourite what Kelly said. This is what makes Alissa Nutting so FANTASTIC. Honestly. she could have done things so differently with Celeste and would not have rang as true. This works,and this character works.

She is obviously going to replace Jack. He’s no longer meeting her idea of what SHE wants. It’s infuriating how messed up she’s made Jack and she has no qualms or regrets about what she’s done to him. Poor Jack. Well, he’ll certainly remember her (which is what she wanted right?).

It amazes me that she so readily wants to replace Jack, even though she can see how completely screwed up he is now because of her. But as you guys said, that is to be expected from her.

Chapter 14:

I think she’s getting incredibly sloppy. Sex with Boyd in Jack’s house? Giving Boyd the same phone she gave Jack? I think she’s over-relying on luck or maybe she thinks she can talk her way out of anything.

Yes she’s getting really sloppy. She’s very confident – too confident! The paranoia of the earlier chapters is totally gone.

Boyd is WAY more bold than Jack. She’s asking for trouble, and yet is totally confident about everything. I agree, Kim. THe paranoia is all but gone. She feels that she can get away with anything at this point, after Jack I guess. She feels animosity towards Jack. Really, Celeste?

Oh no. Jack totally called Boyd. I am surprised Celeste didn’t put that together.

I agree, she is definitely too comfortable with the whole situation now, which is really awful.  Boyd is SO very much different than Jack, but I think Celeste likes it that way. She doesn’t have to worry about him getting as clingy as Jack did.  I am amazed that no one still suspects her of anything!

Chapter 15:

I feel like a broken record but HOLY CRAP. I figured there would be some insane reckoning but that…I can’t even.

Oh shit. It’s all got to be over now. She’s so busted, right??

Oh Jack. See, this is showing exactly why female perpetrators are just as harmful as males. Often the male victim is treated like a hero and this shows that they are just as broken. This mess with Boyd, and Jack is intense. I can’t even comprehend her running after Jack with a knife. She’s screwed.

OMG, she has completely gone bat-shit crazy! Running around naked with a knife? WTH, man?  She’s finally caught, and she SO KNOWS it, too!

Chapter 16:

I love that she’s still coming up with potential alternate explanations even though she has to realize that she’s so screwed. (Also I love Mrs. Pachenko’s reaction.)

Well that unraveled quickly.

Ford’s family is being extremely generous to her! I totally would have just washed my hands of her, but I can understand their point of view.  It’s all downhill from here.

Chapter 17:

I find it so interesting that she spends more detail on her prison sex fantasy than she does her trial.

Is she in denial or does she really think she’s done nothing wrong? I know earlier in the book she seemed well aware that what she was doing was wrong, at least in the eyes of others, but now she’s blaming Jack. Also, is she deluding herself thinking she could go back to Ford?

She really does not see the harm, damage she’s done. Jack’s life is ruined. Even if she knows others will think it’s wrong, she doesn’t think it’s wrong. She just wanted to avoid being caught. Ugh.

She totally spends more time detailing her fantasy than worrying about her actual trial. I find that the spin they are putting on this is all to common for these types of cases. Alissa did her research.

I hate seeing Celeste trying to come up with excuses to say what happened was ok. It. Was. Not. Ok!  The whole trial left a bad taste in my mouth, it was really sick the way the attorneys coached her to make her look innocent. I can’t believe that she is having fantasies about being in jail with boys. So wrong.

Chapter 18:

Poor Ford. Although I wonder if he suspected she was cheating…just not with teenage boys.

I think she expected that Ford would try to exert some control or power – but he was just sad and hurt. And like she said, “It’s just what I like” – that pretty much sums it up for me right there. She can’t/won’t change, because she just likes what she likes.

She seems to think the fact that they are teenagers makes it better or something. She’s incredulous and all “I am not pilfering the elementary schools” when Ford tells her she’s a pedophile. I feel like this is a mantra at this point but she’s once again making it about her.

Poor Ford. I may not have really cared for him as a man, but I felt bad for all that she put him through. I can’t believe he didn’t realize that the relationship that they shared WAS, in fact, fake.  Was he blind? (He’s a man, so yes, he probably was. Haha!)

Chapter 19:

Is it bad that Janet’s meltdown made me laugh? Beyond that though, this is such a disturbing, icky, creepy book. But it’s also really good. Even so, I don’t know of anyone I can recommend it to.

Janet! Haha.

Jack and Boyd are so different from each other. And of course, Celeste is still thinking about teenage boys. Nothing has changed.

The sentence is really just a slap on the wrist. I don’t know what would have been more appropriate, but if the cops/prosecutors had learned the truth about Buck’s death, I wonder what the outcome would have been then.

A year later, she is still obsessed with her appearance and planning on how to meet boys. She’s learned nothing – except perhaps more ways to avoid getting caught – and has not changed. Like I said earlier, I don’t know if she can change. But what a sad way to be. Her entire life is about wanting and obtaining this one thing, and there’s no room for anything else.

I also don’t know who I’d recommend this to. I mean, it’s not an easy read, but it’s so compelling. I honestly could not put the book down. I kept telling myself I’d read one more chapter, but then I’d keep reading.

There are people who will want to read something controversial or disturbing, and to them I would certainly recommend this book. But it definitely won’t be for everyone!

Janet is hilarious. She’s also a kind person. Celeste treated her badly (maybe not to her face, but still) and she was someone who was loyal to her without reason to be.

This whole line ‘What that jury saw was a red-blooded American teenage boy asked to repent for nailing a hot blond’ is the entire reason my blood boils at how these cases are handled in the media. Of course the boy wanted it. Of course, because she’s hot and he’s a boy with hormones. STOP! Jack could have killed Boyd. Jack lost his father. Jack is going to be suffering for YEARS. Same with Boyd.

I like that Alissa ended it with Celeste not learning anything and repeating the same cycle. She can’t change. Won’t change. It’s a very accurate depiction. *applauds Alissa for her amazing insight*

Ladies, we are going to have a fun conversation.

I agree, Janet was a hoot.   Once again, the trial left me with a nasty taste in my mouth. HOW did she pretty much get away with everything?  It just seems so wrong, and it makes me sad that stuff like this happens all the time.  And she’s still at it.. I doubt she will ever change, unfortunately.

This book was so seriously messed up, but it is brilliant as well. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like this before, so it definitely made for quite an interesting, and uncomfortable, read.

2 thoughts on “A Group Discussion of Tampa (or “Oh, this is awkward.”)

  1. Well said, y’all. Like you said, this is a great book, but I can’t imagine anyone I’d dare recommend it to (except for Kelly, honestly). The comment about eye bleach was spot-on. I wanted to boil my head. We had a case like this in (coincidentally) a suburb of Tampa (I’m across the bridge in St Pete). The teacher got four or five years, mostly under house arrest. There’s a South Park episode where Ike has a sexual relationship with his hot Kindergarten teacher; whenever anyone explains that this little kid is having sex with his Kindergarten teacher, the cops look at her and say, “Nice.” I think that’s how things work. As one of you mentioned, it would be soooooo different if it were an adult male preying on fourteen-year-old girls. Either way, EWWW. This book was skeevy as hell, and I read it from Kelly’s review. You got it, Kel: you said it was awesome, but you could think of anyone to whom you could recommend it.

    I loved your discussion, ladies. Your insights and observations were awesome. Thanks for bringing the story back into my life. *finds he’s out of bleach, and sprays eyes with 409 instead.*

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