135 of 141 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2004
I am amazed at the 'average 4-star rating' listed for this book. It is flat out the best book of loss ever. I send this book to anyone who has lost a loved one. It is on my Desert Island book list, for sure; and I am a two-book-a-week fiction junkie. Bittersweet, haunting, hopeful, uplifting, funny.....the full package.
232 of 251 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2000
Ann Patchett, who lives in rural seclusion with her pet raccoons (at least according to the profile in Modern Tennessean), is so good I wish she wrote the morning paper. That way I could wake up and read her sentences all day long.
If you've glanced at the editorials above, you know the novel's plot. Two of the most fascinating characters are already dead when we begin reading; they occupy the heroine's dreams, refusing to rest like peaceful corpses should. Among her other talents, Patchett is masterful with adolescents-- a notoriously tough breed to write about. And she's excellent with violence, too. Not the habitual, ritual violence of genre fiction, but the quick, mean violence of unhappy men.
I don't want to tell you too much. Read the book. If you don't like it, e-mail me and complain about what an idiot I am.
I don't think I'll be hearing from you.
125 of 138 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2011
I don't know if the print version is similarly flawed but the kindle version of this book is so full of typos that I believe I deserve a refund. My favorite typo thus far: "the twenty two feces of famous people staring vacantly in her direction"
The problem is pervasive enough to interfere with the meaning of the text. This is a decent and interesting book (though not Patchett's best) but the kindle version is substandard and should be pulled and corrected. It's just ridiculous.
87 of 96 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 1998
Subtle, beautiful, poignant prose--if you're like me, you were starting to wonder if it could still be found in a book written in the 90s. Here it is. Never mind the plot, which has none of the knife-blade intensity we're so used to these days. And never mind the characters, which are unique and real, though not particularly complex or surprising. Read this book for the sentences, the paragraphs, the feelings and descriptions and quiet inner musings of the Magician's Assistant herself, the ultimate almost-X-gen expert in not-quite-tragic infatuation, Sabine Parsifal. This book is as much poem as novel. The voices echo eerily, as if you'd heard every line in the "real" world but you can't remember where. On the other hand, if subtlety and unending depression bore you, or positive portrayals of homosexual relationships freak you out, better skip this title and head for the bestseller list instead.
34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2002
The first thing you notice when reading The Magician's Assistant is that Ann Patchett really cares for her characters. She quietly nurtures them, even the minor ones, and offers the reader a gentle yet revealing view of their complex lives.
At the opening of the novel, Parsifal the magician, has suddenly died and Sabine, his assistant of twenty years and recently his wife, is trying to cope with her loss. Their relationship had always been a unique one - Sabine loved him and dedicated her life to him despite his inability to love her in the same way: he was gay. What complicates her grief is the discovery that Parsifal has family living in Nebraska - a mother and two sisters - family he had always told her died many years earlier in an accident. In fact, everything she knows about the history of his life, turns out to be a fabricated story. As Sabine struggles to comprehend the reasons for Parisfal's deceptions, she embarks on an emotional journey, traveling to Nebraska to try and connect with the Parsifal she never knew through the family she never knew he had.
Patchett effectively uses two elements throughout the book that bind this story together: the dream world and the world of magic. Descriptions of Sabine's dreams, where she reunites with Parsifal as well as his gay lover Phan, are used to relate Sabine's emotional awakenings as she forms relationships with Parsifal's family and learns of his early life; the magic that Parsifal and Sabine performed throughout their union serves as the tool that brings Parsifal's family an understanding of the son/brother they lost years ago.
Lovingly written and gracefully rendered, The Magician's Assistant is a deceivingly simple book and a very rewarding experience.
64 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2003
After loving Ann Patchett's wonderful novel, 'Bel Canto,' so much, I decided to read her other novels, in the order in which they'd been written. While not on the same level of writing as 'Bel Canto,' I liked her first novel, 'The Patron Saint of Liars' very much. Her second novel, 'Taft,' was a real letdown, but I figured this was just a glitch and that surely her third novel would be even better than her first, or at least as good. So I was really disappointed to find that though a readable book, it was what I'd call ordinary writing, with characters that didn't get under my skin (the way they did in her first and fourth novels), and with very little complexity and little to think or ponder about.
It's true that after I finished the book, I tried every which way to look at it symbolically, to see how the magic tricks, the sleight of hand and the distraction of attention could be applied to what happens, especially with the ending. And yes, OK, I had some theories, such as maybe Sabine had been so distracted by her 22 years with the glamorous, gay Parsifal that she had failed to realize that she was really gay herself, and thus her attraction to Kitty at the end.
But I found that I just didn't really care, partly because I didn't care that much about the main characters. I found the trio of Sabine, Parsifal and Phan all too good, too unflawed, too beautiful, and Sabine's worship of Parsifal for over 2 decades a little hard to fathom, as is her relationship with him for that long. I had a similar relationship with a gay man for several years, but it certainly wasn't without terrible heartache nor without disagreements (which Parsifal and Sabine seem to never have had, not a one!). Well, everything in L.A. is good and charming and wonderful, including Sabine's parents and L.A. itself. And no, you don't really get much sense of Nebraska, as Sabine rarely leaves her new family's house and the Fetters' family seems somewhat cliched.
I did like reading about a magician's life, having known little about this before, and I did like the way Patchett used dreams in this novel to advance the story or add information that would have been hard to introduce otherwise. They weren't your usual dreams, but more like dialogues with the dead--well, mainly Sabine and Phan, leading up to Parsifal's appearance at the end. I did think a bit about the title of the book in relationship to Sabine and what she was doing there in Nebraska all that time (because I surely did wonder as the book progressed!). But I didn't see a lot of growth in her. And the various conversations with the Fetters' family, while written well enough (but never lyrical writing!), didn't seem to really take me anywhere. Nor did the ending.
What Patchett seemed to be saying about love and family has been said many times before and she didn't do it in this novel, for me anyway, in a way that was unique, nor in a story that I could really get involved with. Sorry, but it seemed simplistic & maybe a bit New Agey to me. Maybe some readers would find it entertaining, but I felt I'd pretty much wasted my time in reading it (though I've now accomplished my goal of reading all of Patchett's books!).Thus I'd highly recommend that you skip this novel and Patchett's 2nd ('Taft'), and read her first and last ones instead.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2001
This book is so wonderful, it is difficult to find words to describe it. The main character, Sabine, a former magician's assistant , sets out to find the truth about her dead husband Parsifal, with whom she was achingly in love. Her search for truth leads her into a foreign world-- Nebraska in the dead of winter. Sound depressing? It is not in any way! Ann Patchett's prose is a revelation. I read this book in 1999, and I savored every page not wanting it to ever end. This book is for anyone who has ever been in love, and once you read it, you will find it hard to find another novel that compares to it's beauty and simplicity and power. I have been looking for one as good for 2 years and I haven't found one yet. To call it a triumph is an understatement. Just read it, and you will agree.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2004
The Sweetness of Intimacy Lost: A Book Review of The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett, Harcourt Brace & Company, paperback p. 356.
This tale opens as Parsifal, the magician, dies. We are told of his previous day of an intense headache, and the short, claustrophobic stay in the MRI chamber. Parsifal's death by stroke was unexpected; he was preparing for an impending death due to AIDS-related complications, as did his love Phan, six months prior. At his death, he is accompanied by his wife, Sabine, his Magician's Assistant of 22 years and his wife of 6 months. Parsifal married her so that she would be taken care of following his death. Thus we enter an intriguing, unusual love story.
The shock of the death doesn't seem to dissipate throughout the book. The impact is compounded by Parsifal's previous life which comes to light upon his death. He had lied about his past.
This was a lovely story which unfolded beautifully, and is best unrecounted here; a gradual, descent into love lost and all the intimacy which goes with it awaits you, the reader.
Excellent use of dream sequences are skillfully used to bring Sabine to a place of resolution with Phan's life and death as well as her best friend and beloved Parsifal's death. Both Phan and Parsifal visit Sabine in her dream state; they are the beloved, the guides, the friends, the family, and they lend a voice of sanity to the situation she enters in Nebraska.
We go back in time to the 1960's, childhood, move forward to LA 1990's settings including an appearance on the Johnny Carson show, which is replayed nightly, in the home of Parsifal's family of origin, in Nebraska. The 1990's also hold memories of magical performances, the parties, the gay and glamorous LA life, the marriage party, the selection of the burial triad plot for Phan, Parsifal and Sabine, the anchoring goodness of Sabine's mother and father and pet Rabbit. All lend humanness to this bittersweet tale of unconventional love, remorse, forgiveness and letting go. The resulting relationship Sabine develops with Parsifal's family, is believable, with bouts confusion interspersed with bursts of clarity and well-written dialogue. " I don't care how you worked out being married. What I care about is that you knew him, you were there with him. You were with him all those years when I wasn't. You were with him when he died." Kitty stopped and considered this. "Were you?" she said, "right there with him?"
The ending stays true to form, leaving the reader with the sense of life might go on, or might just slide back. It leaves the hopeful room to hope and room for the despairing to despair..
34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2002
After knowing her husband over 20 years, Sabine finds herself alone. "Parsifal is dead. That is the end of the story." Yet it is only the beginning of Sabine's poignant journey to find who her husband truly was and what she needs to become in order to go on without him. This story isn't just about a magician's assistant, but the everyday magic that people work on each other to improve their outlook on life. The magic of everyday miracles that people become so accostumed to that they overlook--the magic of friendship and family.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 1999
This book was recommended to me by my now-worshipped local bookseller. It has been a long time--longer than I care to remember--since I have been so infatuated with a book and with the evident talent of its author. I don't think I've read anything as good as this in over ten years. This lovely, impressive book about the nature of love seems to me utterly unique and of the highest possible standard.
Ann Patchett has written a book that is entirely compelling and magical in the spell it casts. Her characters and descriptions are so memorable that nine months after reading it, I can still remember almost everything. A writer who can achieve this kind of magic is a kind of wizard herself, and I have bought her two other books and am starting to read them.
If you have been disillusioned with many other highly praised novels, as I have, then try Ann Patchett. I can't imagine she can disappoint.
This is a book about love, and the myriad forms love takes; it is a book that radiates love. It is, I think, an irreplaceable, invaluable book. I recommend it for anything that ails you and anything that doesn't.
Susan Fromberg Schaeffer