by Alissa Nutting
First sentence: I spent the night before my first day of teaching in an excited loop of hushed masturbation on my side of the mattress, never falling asleep.
First indication something is weird: …thirty-one is roughly seventeen years past my window of sexual interest.
First confirmation that something is weird: All I could think about were the boys I’d soon be teaching.
Also enjoyed: …it hardened like the frosting of a confection and cast my excitement beneath a crisp, thin shell.
Number of terrible titles given to an otherwise great first novel: 1
Bravo, Alissa Nutting, bravo. I grew up near Tampa, and expected that a book named after America’s urban carwash and mini-mall capital would itself be the literary equivalent of diarrhea on a humid blacktop parking lot (which I have seen and I gave it two stars). But you won me over in a page and a half. Alissa Nutting, you can write a goddamn sentence. It’s not snarky, it’s not over-saturated by sticky adjectives, and the subject matter is immediately interesting to perverts like me: a gorgeous 26 year-old married woman with a fetish for 14 year-old boys who goes into teaching middle school for the purpose of seducing them. Do go on…
The language becomes very sexual very quickly, but it doesn’t read like a romance novel. The main character describes in detail her attempt to cleanse and scrub her body with strawberry aromatics to a point at which “the slippery organs of my sex…taste like the near-transparent pink shaving gelée applied to them,” and “for the sandy rouge of my nipples to have the flavor of peach cream complexion scrub.” It’s playful without a heavy hand.
The story is inspired by the case of Debra Lafave, who you may remember from the news in 2005, when she was caught sleeping with a 14 year-old male student. Alissa Nutting claims to have attended high school with her near Tampa.
One downside to this work is that the subject material may be more interesting to perverted men than to women (except for Women’s Studies majors, who will surely appreciate the commentary on gender politics and sexuality) and a book by a woman, with a fuzzy cover (yes, it’s fuzzy) is going to be hard to market to the same patriarchy that the book is partially commenting on. Or something. My point is, it reads great, but who’s going to buy it? Unless there’s a vast unaddressed market of child molesters in North America. And if there is, why don’t I have more friends?
Also, I noticed this alternate cover for the book, which I assume was censored for American distribution, since we’re babies; and vaginas, and things that look like them, are scary and might turn us into rapists.
I’m going to read this one for real. I do hope it continues to read this intensely, and leaves the judgments on gender and sexual politics to me. Because I happen to LIKE my double-standards.
(PostScript: I could tell quickly Alissa Nutting is not from Florida. 1. She talks about “mobile” or “extension classrooms”. We called them “portables”. 2. Her main character mentions the weather channel predicting “record-high humidity”. There is no such thing in Florida. Every day is 100% humidity. 3. She says, “the temperature inside the faculty lounge was nearly unbearable.” This is impossible. Every room in a Florida school feels like a meat locker. The A/C runs full blast all night long. First period is never hot. It’s freezing.)
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