The Horror Honeys: Hardcover Honey's Book of the Week!

Hardcover Honey's Book of the Week!

Tampa by Alissa Nutting 

I realize we have had this conversation before, but can we all just agree that our occasional inhumanity to each other is actually much scarier than a sparkly vampire or werewolf who, let's face it, you really only need to be worried about once a month?  The evil that people inflict on each other can make for the scariest kind of story.  Even in Rosemary's Baby, the baby itself was a half-friendly presence who popped up in the last few pages – the scary stuff was that Rosemary's husband sold her out to be Satan's baby mama so easily, right?

With that in mind, this week's Hardcover Honey read was Alissa Nutting's “Tampa” and it is a doozy.  Based on some real-life events in (where else?) that craziest of states, Florida, it introduces us to hottie 26 year old teacher Celeste Price.  Married to Ford Price, a cop who comes from a wealthy family, Celeste seems to have everything.  On the very first page, she and Ford are referred to as “his-and-hers winners of the genetic lottery” by the best man at their wedding.  With careful attention to her exercise routine, her skin care products, and her diet, Celeste seems like the perfect wife, especially with her teaching certificate in hand and an expressed desire to shape young minds.

But of course, this is a Horror Honeys book of the week, and that means there's more going on than meets the eye.  Despite her angelic name, Celeste is actually excited to start teaching not because she wants to shape young minds, but because she wants to fuck young boys. 
Specifically, 14 year old boys.  No older, no younger, due to what she assumes was imprinted on her when she lost her own virginity at 14 to a fellow eighth-grader.  She notes that her choice was slightly shorter than her, “in a way that made me feel half-god to his mortal” and now, in her 20's, eighth-grade boys are still what turns Celeste on.  And as she starts her teaching year, Celeste is excited to select her first willing victim, noting that “the numbers would never be as favorable as they were right now, when his naivete would be subtracted from my expertise to produce the largest sum of astonishment possible.”

Celeste starts the school year hoping to seem like a team player by agreeing to take one of the trailers so many schools use as temporary classrooms these days due to overcrowding.  In fact, this plays perfectly to her desire for privacy.  She does things like wearing racy tops underneath jackets, shedding the jacket once her classroom door is closed.  She stands in front of the window air-conditioning units so that her nipples will be hard when the kids file in for class.  She encourages classroom discussions that veer into the wildly inappropriate, playing the “cool teacher” to get the students to start talking about sex.

She quickly selects her first match, the blandly named Jack Patrick, and finds him more than willing.  She provides him with a disposable cell and they begin what Jack clearly thinks is a relationship that will last throughout his high-school career, after which he assumes they will be able to declare their love to the world.  Celeste, of course, knows better – in fact as soon as Jack moves on from eighth grade, he'll be too old for her and she will move on to her next victim.

While fending off her husband's half-hearted sexual advances and keeping Jack at her beck and call, Celeste also crosses paths with Jack's dad, the unfortunately named Buck, who immediately forms a huge crush on Celeste, which complicates things.  When Buck sees more than he should, things take a turn for the tragic, and Jack's path is altered in a way that makes Celeste think she should cut her losses and move on to her next victim.  

And that's what they are here, as much as Celeste tries to justify her actions – victims.  As much as the boys in Celeste's class mutter among themselves about how smoking hot she is and no matter how she becomes their masturbation material, they are kids, and not a one comes away from their interactions with Celeste any better for it.

It's hard to rate a book like this, because the subject matter was dark.  But part of what made this book so fascinating to me was that Celeste, for all of her intense focus on banging 14 year olds, was also pretty funny at times.  When she finds herself the subject of protest, she notes that “some of the mothers did see fit to bring their young children along to practice the valuable life skill of standing on the side of the road with indignation.” - I mean, that made me laugh out loud.  And her descriptions of an older co-worker, Janet, were viscerally cruel and gleeful.   I suppose all of that makes the book even creepier because it reminds me that we never really know what is going on beneath the surface of our co-workers, neighbors, or even family members.  Although I didn't come away liking Celeste, obviously, I couldn't put this book down.  

Hardcover Honey Verdict: Four out of five creepy predators for this one.  Shudder.