Tim's Reviews > The Magician's Assistant

The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett
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Nov 16, 2009

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Read in November, 2009

Ann Patchett's small, wise, character-driven tale unlocks a good man's secret after his death and expands his widow's idea of family.

Sabine, the magician's assistant of the title, is married to her charismatic stage partner, Parsifal, whose homosexual relationship — his partner died before him — was no secret. Parsifal's tragic past is, however, news, and Sabine's growing relationship with the family she never knew Parsifal had is at the heart of this well-written story. After Parsifal's death Sabine finds the boy he was waiting for her during a visit from her California home to Parsifal's family in a small Nebraska town cowering under winter's thumb.

Patchett skillfully handles Sabine's growing affection for her new family. She blends the present with flashbacks — sometimes in the same paragraph. No big problem there, but her repeated exploration of Sabine's psyche and her relationship with Parsifal via dreams grows very tiresome. But her contrasting of L.A. with Nebraska is effective: "It was past being late. Even the snow had given up. In every direction there was sleep and stillness and dark. There was no time like this in Los Angeles. It was never this late."

This is a genre I don't often visit, but, like Sabine's journey, it was eye-opening and moving. Not great, but certainly worthwhile.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Deborah (new) - added it

Deborah Edwards Hi Tim,

Have you read any of her other books? This one I have yet to read, but I thought "Bel Canto" was exceptional, and "Run" had some nice moments.

message 2: by Tim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tim Debi wrote: "Hi Tim,

Have you read any of her other books? This one I have yet to read, but I thought "Bel Canto" was exceptional, and "Run" had some nice moments. "

I own "The Patron Saint of Liars" but haven't read it yet. (It'll probably be awhile). I was worried that "Bel Canto" might explore exhaustively a musical genre that doesn't interest me. Plus, everybody's read that one!

message 3: by Deborah (new) - added it

Deborah Edwards Oh, give "Bel Canto" a try - I'm no opera fan but if you think it's about opera, you are in for a surprise. It is really more about the ways we communicate and how crises can reveal parts of ourselves we have hidden. And the crisis? It really is the thing here. And it's a doozy. A flouncy opera book this is not. I love Patchett's writing style on a normal day, but it is like she went into some deeper dimension to write "Bel Canto."

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