Audra (Unabridged Chick)'s Reviews > The Magician's Assistant

The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett
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This is my second Patchett novel, and I liked it even less than the previous one I read ( State of Wonder ).

First, I totally misunderstood the premise of this novel. I thought our heroine Sabine's lovely hottie magician husband dies, and then she discovers he was secretly gay, and then discovers he lied about his family being dead and seeks them out blah blah. Instead, the story is that Sabine's lovely hottie magician husband is openly gay and only marries her in the last year so she may inherit his things. He's had numerous loves despite her affection for him. When he dies, she discovers his family isn't dead and seeks them out blah blah. Slight difference, but a significant one: it put the idea of knowing more on Sabine. She knew who Parsifal was, to a point -- she'd been his assistant for 20 years -- so I found her behavior in this book to be a bit piteous and aggravating.

Disappointingly, rather than explore the source of her mental and emotional stasis, Patchett has Sabine pursue Parsifal's life -- yet another obsessive step into the life of a man who didn't love her like she loved him. Since I wasn't fixated on Parsifal the way Sabine was, this whole journey didn't capture me. That Sabine seemed to have little emotional growth and development along the way -- other than to glom onto one of Parsifal's relatives -- frustrated me, but I'm not sure that was the intent of Patchett's story. I think we were supposed to like and relate to Sabine but I found her in need of therapy and some time alone to think about who she is and what she wants from her life.

My next complaint is a little harder to articulate, but there was something dated, I guess, about the novel's feel regarding gays. In some ways, that makes sense -- this book came out in 1997, nearly twenty years ago -- but at the same time, I feel like there's an artificial sense of shock and surprise created by Patchett to evoke tension, maybe. I'll have to meditate on this more as I know I'm not expressing myself clearly -- while reading this, I found myself venting to my wife about how all the Midwestern gays I know (even the ones not speaking to their families) had a more layered relationship to their kin than Patchett's imagining.

And on to my final complaint about this book: I wasn't wild about Patchett's use of setting. In State of Wonder, I thought she evoked the Amazon beautifully, magically. In this book, I found her articulation of Nebraska and the Midwest to be little more than caricature. I suppose since I've lived in Nebraska and the Midwest for a good chunk of my life (and not the Amazon), I cared more, but I felt Patchett used stereotypical shorthand to paint the setting -- country kitsch decor, Walmart, brutish spouses -- rather than really evoke the beauty of a place that moves, lives, and breathes differently than L.A.

The writing is very Patchett-ian, I would say. I read a review about this book describing its "...dreams, flashbacks, and long, elliptical conversations..." which is spot on, and made me insane. I'm not wild about dream sequences in books; I find them a bit self-indulgent and pointless. Perhaps if I liked Sabine more, that element would have resonated, but since I didn't, I felt tired -- I kept putting this one down rather than wallow in the linguistic snakiness.

So, in conclusion, I'm a big cranky wench. Millions of others have enjoyed this novel so I'm sure it's mostly just me.
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Reading Progress

July 17, 2012 – Started Reading
July 17, 2012 – Shelved
July 30, 2012 – Finished Reading
July 31, 2012 – Shelved as: era-1980s
July 31, 2012 – Shelved as: era-1990s
July 31, 2012 – Shelved as: i-wanted-so-much-more
July 31, 2012 – Shelved as: mood-evocative
July 31, 2012 – Shelved as: not-as-good-as-everyone-said
July 31, 2012 – Shelved as: predatory-lesbian
July 31, 2012 – Shelved as: queer
July 31, 2012 – Shelved as: skeletons-in-the-closet

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Shan I'm so excited to hear what you think of this...there are some really wonderful characters.


Audra (Unabridged Chick) I'm really excited and a leeeeetle bit nervous -- I didn't enjoy State of Wonder (altho I am considering rereading it later this summer because I feel like I *should* really like Patchett). The premise of this one sounds wonderful, and having gone from LA to Nebraska myself (and having fond, complicated feelings about both places), I feel like there's a lot here that will resonate.


nomadreader (Carrie D-L) Hooray! I started this one at lunch and only got a few pages in. I'm looking forward to diving in more tonight!


Shan I really love Patchett, although I think her endings are often her weakness. I thought State of Wonder was solid, but it wasn't one of my favorites -- I felt a lot more connected to this one.


message 5: by Amanda (new)

Amanda If you want to give her another try Bel Canto and Patron Saint of Liars are my 2 favs of hers.


BookBully I agree with Amanda. Those two novels will make you a Patchett lover.


Shan You know, I had completely forgotten about those dream sequences! I wasn't wild about those either. :)


message 8: by Crumb (new)

Crumb I think this was an excellent and insightful review. Thank you, Audra!


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