Alissa Nutting’s debut novel Tampa has sparked a major furore. Critics have called this tale of a schoolteacher’s affair with her 14-year-old pupil sickening. Here, we take a look at the real life story behind 2013’s most controversial book and the author’s motivations for writing it.
What’s the book about?
The novel is written from the perspective of Celeste Price, a 26-year-old teacher who grooms her 14-year-old male pupil and engages in disturbing sexual activity with him.
Why is it so shocking?
The novel is extremely sexually explicit and not for the faint-hearted. Readers are exposed to Celeste’s disturbing fantasies about pubescent boys and her twisted encounters with 14-year-old Jack. The book has even been banned from some Australian bookshops.
What was the author’s inspiration?
Nutting was inspired by the real-life case of stunning 23-year-old Florida teacher Debra Lafave (pictured), who was convicted of having sex with a 14-year-old pupil in 2005. Nutting was at school with Lafave and watched the coverage of her trial closely.
Why did she write the novel?
Nutting realised that many people fail to see young men as victims in such cases, imagining that they are always willing sexual participants, and wanted to make her readers question this faulty logic. She also believes that society refuses to accept women as sexual agents – they are seen as the submissive partner – and wanted to reverse the gender stereotype. Her story also looks at how society judges people on their looks – will Celeste get away with abusing her pupil because she is beautiful and innocent looking?
Why did Nutting make the novel so graphic?
Nutting believes that the coverage of cases like Lafave’s tends to diminish the seriousness of what has happened. Her aim was to shock people into challenging their preconceptions. ‘I knew that if I was going to write this I was going to refuse to euphemise, I was not going to hide behind language,’ she told the Guardian.