Maestra – L.S. Hinton

A behavioral therapist once told me that we have a tendency to repeat our mistakes over time, and we can’t break that cycle until we recognize WHY we make those mistakes.  I ended up listening to this audiobook in the same way I ended up watching Boogie Nights.  I heard a description, assumed it was about one thing, and then was very surprised to end up watching porn with my mother.  It’s obvious I don’t fully read the description before I checked out Maestra. The first line of the blurb made it sound great for a commute listen – a young English woman working as an assistant in an art gallery….Boom!  Downloaded.  Sounds like girly fun!

This is not the audiobook to listen to at top volume with the windows down, the sunroof of your rental car open, sitting in traffic, enjoying the luxury of the BMW the rental place gave you after you backed your own economy car smack into your neighbor’s Mazda.  No, you will find yourself fiddling with the volume button as our antihero Judith aka Lauren finds release in graphically depicted sex clubs, banging her way through Europe.

I’m not going to outline the plot, because this is technically supposed to be a thriller, and I won’t do it justice.  Generally, this book is about a woman who comes from poverty and feels great status envy.  She’s smart and loves art, but finds that the world she’s working in is corrupt.  She uses her sexuality first as a way to make ends meet and then as a way to claw herself into a lifestyle of her choosing, and it leads her through a path of manslaughter, insider trading, murder, and fraud.  She’s not great at it – she’s smug at first, thinking she’s very clever, and finds out towards the end that she’s been a massive idiot and is playing into an even bigger scheme.  I really like that she turns out not to be the Mary Sue of the underworld.

Let’s talk about what this book ISN’T.  It ISN’T a book about a woman who is damaged and needs to use sex as a way to feel better about her past.  It ISN’T about a woman who moralizes the murders she’s committing.  It ISN’T about a woman who thinks she’s owed wealth as a way to make up for injustice.  She wants sex because she enjoys it.  She murders out of necessity at first, and later because she wants to do it. She wants wealth because living in poverty is miserable, end of story.

I suppose Judith, our main character, would fit the today’s popular internet definition of a sociopath.  She doesn’t feel emotional attachments to other people, although she does feel some loyalty to a few characters, or at least a sense of fairness.  She says and does what she needs to in order to meet her desires, and kills the people who stand in her way.  You’d think this would make her unlikable, but it doesn’t, because the author never apologizes for this behavior.  Judith is just being herself, and she narrates her story with complete honesty.  She doesn’t lie to herself in the narrative, and it’s refreshing to read a female character who doesn’t try to justify her actions as having some kind of deeper, selfless meaning.  I can respect Judith, although I certainly wouldn’t travel with her.

There are a few things that I didn’t like about the book.  There was an annoying amount of brand dropping.  I understand at first it’s because of Judith’s desire to fit into higher society, and that she’s brand obsessed, but once we got the picture she could have toned it down.  There were also several glaring loopholes in the international crime plots, and that annoyed me.  If you’re going to write a dramatic international crime thriller, those odd ends should have been tightened up in editing.  If you’re going to make use of modern technology, you need to think it through.  For example, when Judith murders an art dealer and takes his thumb and his cell phone so she can unlock it, she takes it back to her hotel room and accesses data.  Hellloooo, traceable internet trail, Judith!  In some scenes she’s worried about prints and in others she’s not.  I guess you could say that at the end, when she finds out she’s been trailed the entire time, that this is how they did it.  But the author never brings it full circle, mentioning that she was trailed BECAUSE of the sloppiness.  Instead it’s just forgotten.

There’s also a sort of half assed attempt to tie her life in with the story of Judith and the Holofernes.  I’m not sure if this is to enhance the theme of the art world, or to further play up Judith’s sociopathic desire for greatness, but I felt like it either needed to be mentioned throughout the entire book, or less.  As it is, the parallel comes up in the last half and felt like it was thrown in there at the end like “oh yeah!  The art world!  Delusions of grandeur!  This is a great idea!”

All in all, I enjoyed this book.  The plot wasn’t watertight, but the portrayal of the main character was so refreshing that I couldn’t resist reviewing it.  I looked it up on Wikipedia and see that it’s part of a series and that there’s supposed to be a movie, so that’ll be fun.  I probably wouldn’t have checked this out if I’d bothered to read the full description, but in this case I’m glad that my laziness lead me to try something new.

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