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.
Sadly, both Phan and Parsifal had AIDS, and as Sabine prepared to say good-bye to them both, Parsifal does something remarkable: he married Sabine, ensuring her financial freedom for the rest of her life. Parsifal, however, had secrets too, namely a mom and two sisters in Nebraska who had not seen him in more than 20 years. When they learned about his death, Parsifal's mom and sister came to Los Angeles to meet Sabine. Once united, Sabine and Parsifal's family pieced together his mysterious life.
The Magician's Assistant was a tale like none other. Indeed, a woman married to a gay man near the end of his life was an unusual story development. However, Ann Patchett had more tricks up her sleeve. Incredibly loving and flawed, Parsifal's family showed Sabine what life was like for young Parsifal (then called Guy), uncovering more secrets. Together, they mourn his death and help heal old wounds.
Wonderfully told, The Magician's Assistant was a moving story of love, friendship, family ties and estranged relationships. Each of the story's twists and turns were unpredictable, and while Patchett left the ending open-ended, I was pleased with the strength of friendship among this group of women. Their mutual love for Parsifal brought them together, but their love for each other made them even closer. The Magician's Assistant was a beautiful book, and once again, Patchett swept me away with her magical storytelling.
My thoughts: After having loved State of Wonder, Bel Canto, and Run, I was convinced Ann Patchett was one of my literary soul sisters who could do no wrong. Sadly, I didn't connect with The Magician's Assistant at all, and I struggled to even finish the novel. My problems with this novel really begin with Sabine. While I'm normally an empathetic reader, I found myself instead wanting to shake Sabine. She fell in love with Parcifal years ago and worked as his assistant for more than twenty years. Parcifal, however, is gay, and he was in love with Phan, who died of AIDS. Parcifal was also sick with AIDS, and he and Sabine were preparing for his death, but something else killed him. As Sabine is dealing with her grief, I failed to understand her weakness. Her behavior seemed to be that of a teenager or woman in her early twenties. Patchett kept reminding me Sabine was in her forties, and I couldn't help but feel sad for her: she married a man who only loved her as a friend and has nothing else after his death but his money and the money of Phan.
As pitiful as Sabine was, I still kept hoping to connect with this novel. When Sabine learns Parcifal's mother is in fact alive and well in Nebraska, she welcomes her and Parcifal's sister when they visit Los Angeles. I hoped the preposterousness of this situation would carry humor and grace, but instead, it just seemed sad and somewhat far-fetched all around. Despite these long-held secrets about Parcifal (his family still knows him as Guy), something always felt off about the people; they never felt real either. There were a few digs at Midwestern life I didn't buy either, but I could have overlooked some of the caricature if I felt the emotional depth I have in Patchett's other works.
Favorite passage: "Most people can't be magicians for the same reason they can't be criminals. They have guilty souls. Deception doesn't come naturally. They want to be caught."
The verdict: Despite my love of Patchett's writing, I never connected with Sabine in this story, and I never felt truly engaged with the narrative. While her writing excelled, plot and character development were lacking, and overall, this novel left me cold.
I particularly loved reading the sections about Sabine's dreams. Also, the section when Kitty explains the role Walmart plays in the lives of the people of the town is wonderful- the best use of Walmart in a book since Where the Heart Is.
Patchett's writing is wonderful, and she puts her characters and settings (Los Angles and Alliance, Nebraska) on the page with such simple clarity and seemingly effortless attention to detail that you never once question the reality of them. Magic tricks and the world of magicians weave through the story, adding interest and some thematic heft. The secrets in Parsifal's past always work to reveal more about the novel's characters, never exist for drama or shock value. An engaging and compelling read, though one which ends perhaps a bit abruptly, without a fully satisfying resolution to all of the story threads.
Both books have a performance theme, a complex range of relationships and a strong sense of dramatic suspense.
It's good, but not as absorbing as Bel Canto
The story, in an overly simplistic nutshell, revolves around a widow learning her husband's secret past. With the first pages picking up the story just after her husband's death, the reader is aligned with Sabine, the widow, and is by her side through the sometimes very emotional book.
The author's ability to grant the reader an intimate knowledge of the main character keeps the reader glued to the story just as if one was hearing this story first-hand from a trusted friend.
Not long after Parsifals death, Sabine finds out that Parsifal never told her the truth about his family. He had told Sabine that his family died in a car crash years ago. The truth is he in fact has a mother and 2 sisters still living in Nebraska.
As Sabine sets out to discover the truth about the man she loved for so long she finds out a lot of buried family secrets. In her search for the truth she discovers some surprising one about herself.
Honestly I was truly disappointed with with this book. If it wasn't for the fact I wanted to find out what happened in Parsifal childhood I would have given up on the book early on. This books horribly slow at times. I didn't care for all the dreams sequences with Phan. The book had to much of a surreal feel for my taste.
Well, this year with the 888 challenge I finally decided to give it a try and stop being ridiculous (again) about yet another topic. I picked up this particular novel and put it in the TBR pile.
I began reading it slowly, letting it sink in. After thirty pages of reading it this way, I decided that this was the story (for a myriad of reasons) that I should have written ten years ago *laughing at myself*. I wouldn't have done it nearly the justice she did, of course. Two days later (would have been faster if I didn't have life interrupting me!) What a beautiful tale.
The Magician's Assistant begins with the sudden death of a young, handsome magician, Parsifal, and is the story of his widow Sabine, his assistant for over twenty years. She learns that his family, who Parsifal said had been killed in an accident but who she learns are alive and well and living in Nebraska. This story is her story, and what she does once she learns they are alive.
It is a story about magic and love and family and how we cope with what we are dealt with.
I give it four and a half stars and recommend it highly. I am also planning to read more of Ms. Patchett's work very soon.
It is an interesting and almost odd plot line. Sabine fell in love with Parsifal twenty-some years ago. She was his faithful friend and assistant-you see Parsifal was a magician. The thing is Parsifal didn't love women. After Parsifal's lover, Phan, dies, he and Sabine marry so that Sabine can inherit all that is his without any problems. After Parsifal's death, Sabine discovers that as well as she knew him, she knew nothing of his past . . . and she will now discover it.
There were a couple odd scenes in here and I'm glad Patchett didn't dwell on them. The focus of this story is the loss that Sabine feels after Parsifal's death and how she begins to live again. The characters are deep and intriguing, wounded and lost.
Patchett draws you in and keeps you interested. I never wanted to put the book down because at every point along the way there is something new to discover in the plot and about each character.
There are some weird dream sequences that help move the plot along, in any other book this wouldn't have worked, but Patchett does it masterfully and it makes perfect sense with the book's tone. As you read, you feel lost and numb like Sabine, and then as she begins to feel again, you can feel where Sabine is at along her healing process.
Again, Patchett flops on the ending. It is better than Bel Canto's ending because it is not so out there, but it brings no closure. The closing scene could have been placed in the series of events and would have fit there as well.
Despite the ending, Patchett has still created an amazing read that takes you from Los Angeles to Nebraska and into the heart of a woman learning to live with loss.
I need to do something about my contrary nature.
I loved this book. Patchett aptly describes a loving but dysfunctional family and a daughter-in-law's (albeit a non-standard daughter-in-law, herself) attempts to heal their pan as she heals her own. Sabine is the magician's assistant for Parsifal, a gay magician who in 20 years, never reveals his real past to her. He's honest with her about his love for men, his partner, Phan, in particular, but he never tells her that he has a mother and sisters who live in Nebraska. After his partner's death, Parsifal marries Sabine--a sign of love for the woman he's loved platonically for years. He dies soon after, leaving Sabine to put together the pieces of his past and lead everyone involved--including herself--to healing.
The magic doesn't stop after the magician dies. In fact, that's where the real magic starts. Phan visits Sabine in dreams, helping her get over Parsifal's death.
It's a wonderful book, full of healing, and mistakes and forgiveness and love. You find your family where your heart is.