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Why Do Stories of Female Sexual Predators Shock Us?

Alissa Nutting discusses her summer bestseller "Tampa" -- a tale of lust that draws out the dynamic between a predatory teacher and her lascivious students.

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To me, it’s not controversial to teach “Lolita” in schools. I see its literary merits quite clearly. We’re far more normalized toward stories of female victimization. We’re far less likely to sit back with our mouths open in shock or more comfortable characterizing older males as predators or seeing them in that role. In all of those aspects, “Lolita” is a very traditional text. It doesn’t really challenge at all these fundamental stereotypes we have of predator and victim. It’s a key that fits perfectly into that lock, and it’s a canonical representation of that mainstream role binary we’re very familiar with.

“Tampa” is likely to cause a stir, in my uneducated opinion — banned from libraries, “Today” show segments, and all the rest. Are you ready for that? Are you dreading it? Or did you intend it? 

In daily life, I’m not a big wave-maker at all. I’m very polite and conciliatory. But I wrote this book in order to open the dialogue for social discussion. I could understand how bannings or controversial outcries might advance the social dialogue around this topic in a way that would please me. But I’m not one of those people who are fueled by controversy. I wouldn’t look forward to dealing with it.

You’ve written clearly and wrenchingly, recently for the New York Times, about your own struggle with anxiety. What has that anxiety taught you about writing fiction? 

I think it makes it easier to write obsession. It adds, perhaps, kind of a realism to the illogical things that make each one of us the idiosyncratic individuals that we are, and makes fiction credible. I remember reading this great, odd article in this vintage dental publication with all of these crazy photos. One of the guys who made dentures said it was their imperfections that made them look real. That’s what keeps people from thinking that they’re dentures. That’s true of characters in fiction. There are things wrong with them that make them compelling and make them seem like individuals. All of our own struggles are a great window into all that.

 

Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

 
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