I know this is the second book review I’ve posted in a week, but I’ve been reading a lot lately – mostly due to being laid up with a cough that I can’t shake. That part sucks, but the good news is I chose some great reading materials.
Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant is the story of Sabine, who has just been widowed by the man with whom she made her living performing magic. They had an unconventional relationship, and after his death, she learns of his family in Nebraska who he’d kept secret from her for their twenty-two years together. Sabine is devastated to find this out, but she decides to meet them, and gradually becomes involved in their lives.
There isn’t a whole lot to describe in the way of plot: this is the story of a woman coming to terms with her husband’s death and finding out that she didn’t know him as well as she’d thought.
What I Liked
Can I say everything? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be exaggerating by much if I said so. As I’ve said, it isn’t a plot-driven novel, but there’s still a story to be told, and Patchett tells it well. The characters are the crux of the story – they’re all well flushed out, they’re interesting, they’re people who I wanted to hang out with and get to know over the course of the novel.
One of my favorite things about reading this book was the way dreams were incorporated. Sabine never dreamt before her husband passed, but suddenly begins to have vivid dreams in which she learns more about him and tries to reconnect with him. The dreams themselves aren’t what impressed me, but moreso the way Patchett wrote them: all the action in the book is written in the past tense; the dream sequences are written in the present tense. This simple switch in tenses made it so uncomplicated to read.
What I Didn’t Like
This is kind of a cop-out, because it’s as much a commendation of the writing as it is complaint, but it drove me crazy how Patchett would describe Sabine performing magic tricks without explaining the trick! It’s very clever and well done, and left me feeling like I was watching a magic show: I knew there was a trick to it and wanted to know how it was done, but she never said!!
Actually, there was one element of the story that didn’t quite work for me – Sabine is wary of meeting her husband’s family, but as soon as they show up, she’s driving them around Los Angeles and inviting them into her home. I’m willing to give it a pass, because, well, the story wouldn’t have gone anywhere if she hadn’t, and Patchett does subtly remind her reader that Sabine is grieving and not making fully rational decisions.
I can’t say enough how much I loved this book. It’s easily one of the best that I’ve read this year.
Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review – here’s the link.
Both of my parents are fans of Patchett’s books, and my mom lent me her copy of The Magician’s Assistant … um, maybe two years ago?! My dad and I were talking recently about The Twelve and he mentioned that Patchett is one of his favorite authors, and I remembered that I’ve had copies of two of her books that I borrowed from mom and/or dad sitting on my bookshelf. Now that I’ve read this, I can’t believe I put off reading it for as long as I did. I’m excited to read more of her novels.