Tampa and My Dark Vanessa


Well. I think I’ve reached my fill of the teachers preying on students themed books for maybe ever. Tampa was such a visceral read I hated myself for even finishing it, sick to my stomach the entire time because Alissa Nutting is such a talented writer I felt trapped in the mind of Celeste Price, an eighth grade English teacher who unapologetically preys on teen boys with the singular obsession of a shark sensing blood in the water. A massive trigger warning to anyone even thinking of picking up this intensely vile depiction of a sociopathic female sexual predator. Nutting does not pull any punches in her vulgar descriptions of Celeste’s sexual fantasies, her grooming and assaulting multiple boys, so be aware of that. If you have the stomach for it, Tampa is doing something very fascinating by turning the Lolita trope on its head from the POV of a woman, whose sexual appetite is as terrifying as any man’s and the way society can sweep away the assault of young teenage boys because if it’s perpetrated by a beautiful woman then how can it be abuse? What do we let beautiful people get away with? Why do we think monsters will show themselves willingly, marked, when they can so easily hide behind a good mask, a pretty smile? Once she gets caught, her experience in the system, her trial is something else altogether. For what Tampa is, it’s well done, but I can’t help but wonder why we need it. And much like Lolita, what does it say about an author that can live in such a depraved mind so seamlessly? Why would you want to?

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell was a much easier read, I’m not sure if it’s because it’s told from the victim’s POV or because for most of the book Vanessa is under the impression that she’s not a victim, that she’s entered this relationship willingly and allowed it to become the hub around which her life revolves. Which allows you as the reader to go with that, live in the same denial for at least a little while. Nutting does not give you the courtesy of denial, reading Tampa you have to stare the monster in the eye every second of the story. Given the choice, I’d much rather live in Vanessa’s head than Celeste’s, even if what she goes through is as vile as much of what Celeste does, it’s more familiar—her male teacher grooms and abuses her for years, gaslights her constantly and ruins her life—but like bleh this again, gross, but at least it’s not quite as punch you in the face horrifying as living in the mind of Celeste while she blissfully consumes boys like something delicious, licking her fingers clean after… My Dark Vanessa is just a much more palatable level of disgusting, which I guess is the whole point of writing something like Tampa—to point that inconsistency out. But, yikes, it was a lot reading in that hellscape: it took two months to get my mind right enough to even write about it.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Kristan says:

    Yeesh. Thanks for the heads-up about TAMPA. Don’t think I’ll be subjecting myself to that. But MY DARK VANESSA has been on my TBR list for a while.

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