The taboo that comprises many a male fantasy: an affair between schoolteacher and student. The seduction of the sensitive, bookish virgin enamored by the teacher with whom she places complete trust and transfers those fears for safety and protection that she’s lacking at home onto him. Or the nubile male student who lusts after his not much older hot hot teacher—c’mon Van Halen didn’t write “Hot for Teacher” for nothing! It’s an illicit thought that goes through many adolescent male minds late at night in bed with a box of Kleenex. I say it’s the ultimate male fantasy because historically men write poems, stories and songs about it. There are tons of cases of female teachers embarking on relationships with their underage students. So that happens. An adult having sex with a virgin child 19-25 years her or his junior has her/his own issues with insecurity, dysfunctional relationships, inappropriateness and reality vs. fantasy certainly. Both teachers by picking these young virgins can teach them to be their sexual toys, their playthings. They’re clay. They’re clean slates. They start from scratch and do what they want. Two young authors tackle this topic in their debut novels. Both take completely different approaches yet provide female perspectives and both write page-turning stories with gorgeous prose.
TAMPA by Alissa Nutting. Publisher: ECCO (March 4, 2014). Contemporary fiction. Paperback. 266 pages. ISBN 978-0-06-228058-9.
In TAMPA, Alissa Nutting describes a female predator in a disturbing but completely engrossing manner from the first page with its edgy tone, smart style and graphic descriptions. Celeste Price is a stunning and cunning junior-high English teacher with a predilection for sex with 14-year-old boys. She intends to embark on a sexual relationship with one during the upcoming school year. She’s married to a police officer with family money which enables her the freedom to painstakingly plan this out and keep her husband from suspecting anything.
Of her target boy she says: “Extreme growth spurts or pronounced muscles were immediate grounds for disqualification. They also needed to have decent skin, be somewhat thin, and have either the shame or the preternatural discipline required to keep a secret.” Nutting does address society’s obsession with looks. Celeste’s husband, Ford, clearly married her because she’s gorgeous and ten years younger than him. He expects her to look good and show up for functions and parties as the pretty showpiece. He treats her as a sex object most of the time.
Yes, she’s preying on this young kid but Nutting’s also making us think about how much we value looks because Celeste uses her looks to get the kid and as leverage in her marriage and the husband uses her looks as a playing piece in their marriage as well. “People are often startled by my handwriting; because I’m pretty they assume everything I do is pretty. It’s odd to them that I write like I have a hook for an arm, just as Ford would be startled to learn I have a hook for a heart.” TAMPA ricochets to a somewhat surprising ending.
The Wood of Suicides by Laura Elizabeth Woollett. Publisher: The Permanent Press (January 2014). Contemporary fiction. Hardcover. 192 pages. ISBN 978-1-57962-350-0.
In The Wood of Suicides, author Laura Elizabeth Woollett makes it murky who’s the seducer and who’s seduced even though it’s statutory rape when a high school student has sex with her teacher. Woollett writes with a poetic flair. Mature writing, a fascinating portrait created for Laurel and some lovely scenery descriptions. Laurel’s father died and she transferred to this boarding school. She’s an anorexic and suicidal. [“I did go to the bathroom, but not to throw up, not to self-harm, self-pleasure, or even cry. The impulse to do all these things was there, but not the resolve, as I sat with my feet up inside the locked cubicle, locked in a paroxysm of self-hatred, desire, and despair.”] She carries her father’s pills and contemplates taking them to kill herself. Even if Laurel had a crush on Hugh Steadman, her English teacher, it’s wrong for him to make advances and to take advantage of her as her teacher. But he did and this goes on for a year. “It was evident that he saw me, from the way that his eyes were occasionally drawn to my swinging legs or paused often and for a longer time on my face; even that he saw me as a nice-looking girl. His gaze did not betray anything further, however; no inappropriate feelings, no bubbling, uncontrollable lust. It was the gaze of a felon, on the brink of committing statutory rape.”
Laurel thinks that her teacher might be seducing her until she gets a book on a day trip and starts to study her teacher some more and puts time into it on her end. She studies the art of seduction. It’s a confusing mutual admiration and many young women have crushes on their teachers that should never end with sexual encounters. In this case it’s as icky and gross as he’s 25 years older and even more so as he reads her poetry and tells her about love stories that remind him of them. Of course at the beginning Laurel’s rather enamored and can’t believe it’s happening but as it goes on clearly Steadman’s the lucky bastard fucking the “nymph” as he so grossly calls her. The deviant. He’s married to a doctor and unrealistically tells Laurel he’ll leave his wife and they’ll marry. He puts her on birth control as they’re having sex three times a week on the rug in the classroom. Laurel doesn’t even enjoy the sex that much. As these things go, they come to a disappointing end for all parties involved.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received these books for review from the publishers.