I had been hearing good things about Ann Patchett and so when I walked by the book share at work and saw The Magician’s Assistant, I decided to give it a try. I didn’t know much about either the author nor the novel except that I was supposed to read her, so I was quite surprised when I started reading.
First off, the book starts with the magician’s death–and not in any spectacular fashion, but a brain aneurysm. And then Sabine, his assistant for over 20 years and his wife for less than 2, is left to deal with the loss of the man she always loved, but who was gay. So there wasn’t much magic, except for some dreams that I’m not sure were supposed to be simply her subconscious trying to help her cope, or an actual spiritual experience and she was connecting with her dead husband’s dead lover. On top of dealing with this loss, she also comes to find out that her husband had lied about his family: they were not dead, but living in Nebraska. And they want to get to know her and, through her, the life their son led.
But beyond this rather odd set-up, the writing was beautiful. I didn’t want to put the book down because it did such a wonderful job spinning the fragile world that Sabine found herself in. And there was just enough hint of magic to keep it from becoming too heavy. In fact, I feel the whole novel can be summed up in how she describes Sabine during a particular magic trick…levitation. She had to hold herself completely rigid and was under incredible stress in order to make it look like she was effortlessly floating on air.
The whole experience was a rather pleasant surprise and I’d definitely suggest reading at least this novel. And now I need to go track down Bel Canto as I’ve been told that’s her best–though after this novel, I can’t imagine how things can get better.