Sea Creatures is a rich, languid read. Tampa by Alissa Nutting Ecco, Hardcover, pp. There is, however, a double standard when such betrayals occur. When a male teacher seduces a young female student, the encounter is most often met with outrage. But when the adult is a young, attractive female, consideration is given to the possibility that the teacher was the seduced, rather than the seducer, or to the chance this could be true love, as some argued in the case of Mary Kay Letourneau, who went on to marry the student with whom she started a relationship when he was twelve years-old.
Tampa , Alissa Nutting's provocative, sexually-charged, and frightening debut novel, should dispel that double standard.
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The novel follows Celeste Price, a gorgeous twenty-six year-old who seems to have the ideal life. She's got a husband, Ford, who comes from a wealthy family and matches her in good looks, so much so that, at their wedding, Ford's best man called the pair "'his' and 'hers' winners of the genetic lottery.
Celeste prefers her, um, men, a bit younger. Fourteen to be exact, making the Tampa middle school at which she begins teaching at the start of the novel the perfect hunting ground. She attributes her attraction to barely teen-aged boys to the fact that she lost her virginity at the age of fourteen, an experience she says "seemed like I'd just given birth to the first day of my actual life.
She looks for certain behaviors and personality traits in male students that identify or eliminate them as potential lovers. She avoids the jock-types who are popular, self-assured, and aggressive. Through the first two periods of her first day, Celeste fails to identify any promising prospects. Then comes third period. The methodical way Celeste goes about selecting Jack while dismissing others is prelude to what makes Tampa a frightening novel: the way she lures him in. Jack is shy and non-threatening, so unsure of himself he wouldn't put the moves on a female classmate, much less an older woman.
Celeste identifies this with a cunning clairvoyance and sees his shyness as an opportunity to teach him more than just English. The reading material she selects for her class-- Romeo and Juliet , The Scarlet Letter , and Lord of the Flies —opens for discussion the topics of adolescent feelings, forbidden sex, and behavior without rules, which serve as Celeste's way to gauge Jack's eventual compliance.
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Whatever may be the case with other female teachers involved with students, Celeste is no victim. She's a devious predator who goes to equal lengths to prevent discovery as she does to find a lover. When Jack's father returns home from work earlier than expected one evening and finds her in a compromising position with Jack, Celeste offers herself to him in exchange for his silence. Jack, who has inevitably fallen in love with Celeste, doesn't take this well. To appease him, she lets him enter her in a way not even Ford—who is little more than an afterthought in Tampa —is allowed to.
As Jack plans their lives together, Celeste is on the hunt for his eventual replacement. He's looking forward to the day he turns eighteen; she's dreading the day he turns fifteen. The chain of events that follow leads towards a trial, and a chilling ending. Tampa is sure to be one of the most talked about novels of , as it should be.
Nutting, inspired by the real life case of Florida teacher Debra LaFave, with whom she attended high school, reverses the more common gender roles of predator and prey. Nutting also plays on society's fixation with beauty, assumptions about who is a target, and the ways that these can be manipulated. Tampa is, at points, an uncomfortable read, not because of its graphic sexual depictions, but because of Celeste's heartless, self-centered actions, especially toward Jack.
I've seen Tampa on countless summer must-read lists, Cosmopolitan included, and don't disagree. But I won't be surprised when, come summer's end, the number of boys being home-schooled has increased dramatically. Set in present day northeast Florida, during one long, scorching summer, Heart of Palm follows the tenacious and heartwarmingly crazy Bravo family: strong-willed Arla, the family matriarch, Dean, the alcoholic absentee father, who deserted his family twenty years before, and their three children, Sophia, mentally unstable but just as stubborn as her mother, Frank, and Carson.
Carson, a tightly wound financial manager, is in over his head, both financially and extra-curricularly.
Arla and Sofia live together, acrimoniously, in the crumbling old family home, Aberdeen, on the bank of the Intracoastal Waterway. Neither woman has ever learned how to drive. Anyone with any money or sense, would live south in the beautiful historic town of St.
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Augustine, or north, in either Ponte Vedra or Jacksonville. But Utina is on the cusp of change. Outsiders are swooping in to buy prime waterfront properties. The old Winn Dixie is facing competition with a brand new Publix. Developers are interested in the Bravo family property and restaurant. The question becomes, will they sell out?
Because they are so enmeshed in Utina, each member of the Bravo family must take a hard look at the life they are living, as well as their tragic past, in order to uncover the answer. We see Frank struggle the most. The result is a complex layering of character, an intertwining of perspective that moves the story forward while letting the reader close enough to sympathize with even the most distasteful members of the Bravo clan. In a scene where Dean looks back on his life with Arla, he thinks:. Like Russo, Smith builds a supporting cast of town folk who are both hilarious and sad, often at the same time.
We have Biaggio, of questionable past, living in a trailer on the same property as Aberdeen, whose job it is to drive Sofia and Arla around in a run-down van. Susan Holm is the local real estate agent who has an unrequited thing for Frank.
Smith takes her time developing all her characters, even the minor ones, and this allows the reader feels at home, as if we know everyone in town. Heart of Palm is a beautifully written story, at times comical and crushingly sad. The Bravos and their friends will stay with you long after the summer ends. I only hope Laura Lee Smith is hard at work on a second novel. She lives and writes in Stuart, FL. Colagrande BlazeVox, Paperback, pp. Colagrande seems to have had fun recreating elements of structure, satire, and language play from the original.
The beauteous lady love Chichi [shee-shee] is lost and found and lost and found.
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Just to name a few. Start with nothing, learn as you go. Could the County of Dade be "the best of all possible worlds"? He lives in Miami. More info at his website. A poor town, with a history of racial violence and dark secrets, Hendrix has the tendency to hold onto its citizens for generations.
The year is Eighteen year old Jolie Hoyt has missed her ticket out when she is not accepted to the Savannah College of Art and Design. Her options are limited. She is too shy and religious to end up like most Hendrix girls.
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Enter Sam Lense, a Jewish graduate student in anthropology from the University of Florida, who arrives in Hendrix to study the Muskogee Creek Indians, a tribe in the process of trying to gain federal recognition. Although Sam is supposed to spend his semester studying the Creek census, we learn he has personal ties to the brutal lynching of Henry Kite near Hendrix. His true motive for coming to town is to investigate this incident.
The novel is structured in two parts. The first covers the relationship between Sam and Jolie. Part Two jumps ahead twelve years, puts us in Tennessee, and introduces us to Hollis and Charley Frazier, two black, aging brothers with links to Hendrix. This leap in time and place halfway through the novel is jarring, and it takes a while to warm up to new characters this late in the game.
Before long though, Owens has Charley and Hollis traveling back to Hendrix on a quest involving the old lynching, and this drives the action of the rest of the story. Owens infuses setting into every aspect of the book. The lynching of Henry Kite is alluded to, but never fully discussed.