The Magician's Assistant
by Ann Patchett
Sabine has spent her entire life pining after the one man she could never have. She’s spent years working as a magician’s assistant for Parsifal, but he is gay and can never return her love in the way she wants. She was close friends with both him and his partner Phan. After Phan’s death she and Parsifal marry for companionship and so that she will inherit his home. When he passes away she finds out he was not orphaned as he claimed, but has a whole family in Nebraska who want to meet her.
This strange premise is not at all what I was expecting. I think I thought it would be a bit like The Prestige or something, set in the 1800s and full of intrigue. Instead it’s a quiet story of grief and love and the many forms that both of those things come in. The grief aspect of the novel was actually the most interesting to me. I felt like Patchett captured its confusing nature well. One moment you’re in shock, another you’re unable to function, yet another you’re sappy with memories or regrets. Its mercurial forms can leave a person reeling and I think Sabine was struggling with that.
It’s a tribute to Patchett’s writing that I enjoyed this one as much as I did. It’s certainly not my favorite or her novels, but like her other books it’s so characters driven that the odd plot doesn’t really detract from it. I disliked the ending, which felt a bit too contrived for me, but that seems to be a trademark of Patchett’s. Many people felt the same way about Bel Canto.
BOTTOM LINE: Read it if you already love her work. If you’re new to her, start with Bel Canto, a gorgeously written story, or with her nonfiction book Truth & Beauty, an ode to her friendship with a fellow writer. This one isn’t bad, but it never comes together as well as those others.