The Magician's Assistant
by Ann Patchett
Fiction. 357 pp.
When Parsifal, a handsome and charming magician, dies suddenly, his widow Sabine—who was also his faithful assistant for twenty years—learns that the family he claimed to have lost in a tragic accident is very much alive and well. Sabine is left to unravel his secrets, and the adventure she embarks upon, from sunny Los Angeles to the bitter windswept plains of Nebraska, will work its own magic on her. Sabine's extraordinary tale captures the hearts of its readers just as Sabine is captured by her quest.
I read this book on the recommendation of a friend, and I'm pleased I did as this isn't an author I had heard of before or would have been inclined to pick up.
Before I get into my feelings on the book, I just want to clarify one little tidbit in the back copy: It should read his faithful assistant for twenty years Sabine—who was also his widow. Because this is what Sabine was to Parsifal. What with his being gay and all and marrying her during the last year of his life to make her inheritance easier. Anyway.
This is a character book. I realize that I generally come down fairly harsh on character books. After reading this, I realize it's because they generally aren't done very well. Patchett's language and sense of timing are remarkable. Remember how Ogre likes to talk about how he has layers, like an onion? Patchett proves herself quite adept at peeling back those layers with the right pacing and at the right time.
I can't say I ever felt compelled to read this book, but I noticed that it was written in such a way that all of a sudden I had read forty or fifty pages without being cognizant of it. I think that's a mark of an author who has crafted a fine novel.
It's a character book, so there's not much plot. Though there was a sudden introduction of plot toward the end. And I wasn't happy with it. Because suddenly there was an interesting action, but it was never developed. Giving the author the benefit of the doubt, I'd say it's because she's established these detailed and exquisite character descriptions and we are left to imagine what the characters will do now that something has happened.