The Magician's Assistant


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Shortlisted for The Women's Prize for Fiction. From the bestselling author of The Dutch House, Commonwealth and Bel Canto, Winner of The Women's Prize for Fiction and the Pen/Faulkner Award. A magician (with one memorable appearance on the Johnny Carson Show to his credit) takes the name Parsifal. He is gay. He has a Vietnamese lover, Phan. When Phan dies of AIDS, Parsifal marries the woman who has always adored him and who has lived with them both, his assistant Sabine. Then Parsifal himself ...

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Mar 2, 2014


The novel begins with the death of Parsifal, the magician of the title, with his ?assistant? and wife, Sabine by his side. However, this was a marriage between a gay man and a woman who had adored him for the previous 22 years. Parsifal, who died of an aneurism but was already holding a warrant signed by death after being diagnosed with AIDS, wanted to give Sabine a financial as well as an emotional stability by marrying her after Parsifal?s Vietnamese lover Phan had died a short time before.
A few days after the funeral Parsifal?s lawyer informs Sabine that Parsifal had left a considerable amount of money to his mother and two sisters. Parsifal was wealthy and now so was Sabine so the money being left to Parsifal?s family was of no consequence to Sabine. But what was of consequence was that Sabine was not aware of Parsifal?s family as Parsifal had never talked about his family and had led Sabine to believe that they were dead.
Soon after, Parsifal?s family visit Los Angeles to not only meet Sabine but to visit Parsifal?s (or Guy as he was christened), grave and hopefully have Sabine show them some of Parsifal?s favourite places. During this time Parsifal?s mother, Dot Fetters, invites Sabine to visit her and her family in the small town of Alliance in Nebraska and to attend her daughter?s wedding. Sabine agrees and during the visit she discovers that though she had known and loved Parsifal for 22 years and believed she knew everything about him it soon transpires that Parsifal had failed to illuminate Sabine about his early life that would define who he would become as a man.
I am going to write up front that this a delightful book that injects one with feelings of joy. The subject matter may involve death and its black tendrils that reach out and attempt to suffocate those left behind who are trying to come to terms with their loss. But this is not a didactic novel that attempts to give answers as to how to cope with death and find what the American?s refer to as ?closure?. No, this novel is partly about how our young informative years can either define our adult life in such a way as to either set one on a road to destruction or that one cannot allow an unhappy childhood to mould us into unhappy adults. Philip Larkin may have been correct when he wrote, ?They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do? but as this novel attempts to prove one can break this cycle of being fucked up.
As Sabine becomes involved in the lives of Parsifal?s parents each side draws sustenance and strength from the other and in so doing allows them to become more than they are, more than they would have been if there orbits hadn?t began to circle each other with the gravity of Parsifal?s death.
Ann Patchett?s style of writing is both luminous and absorbing. Here is her describing Los Angeles;
?Sabine was glad to show off her city. Los Angeles, she felt, was maligned because it was misunderstood. It was the beautiful girl you resented, the one who was born with straight teeth and good skin. The one with the natural social graces and family money who surprised you by dancing the Argentine tango at a wedding. While Iowa struggled through the bitter knife of winter and New York folded in crime and the South remained backwards and divided, Los Angeles pushed her slender feet into the sand along the Pacific and took in the sun.?
The author shows a considerable understanding of family dynamics. Her descriptions of childhood and the all encompassing, all pervading parental fear of a child being hurt, disabled or lost is sublime.
?Sabine?s mother tells the story of hearing a scream that was the sound only a dying person would make. She thought a wolf or a bear, animals that had never before come into the city of Montreal, was at that moment in her yard, eating her daughter alive. But when Sabine ran to her, it was only the snow she was screaming at, and her mother said she understood.?
Within this story of death, love and families is humour. It is a subtle humour that is as beguiling as any well performed magic trick. Ann Patchett has written a compellingly lyrical novel that any reader will find hard to ignore.


Apr 30, 2009


Might be a little hard to take if you are recently widowed yourself as the lead character has just lost her husband. It hits close to home. A different kind of story throwing together unlikely characters. Patchett has a great way with dialogue and characterization. After loving Bel Canto and Run, I was pleased with this one and will seek out another novel by Patchett.

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