Reviews for Magician's Assistant


Booklist Monthly Selections - #2 September 1997
Sabine worked as an assistant for the magician Parsifal for more than 20 years. She was always in love with him, but he loved another man, and she was content to be his friend. Grief-stricken after his death, she is amazed to learn that he had a mother and two sisters, whom he had never mentioned. Sabine, a sophisticated, wealthy Angeleno, agrees to meet his homespun Nebraska family, and their heartfelt interactions are the focus of the novel. Sabine learns the reasons why Parsifal abandoned them and remade himself far from the bitterly cold heartland. There are many magical moments here, as Sabine enchants Parsifal's family by performing some of his favorite tricks and acts as a healing force for them, just as they do for her. At the core of this whimsical, romantic novel is the notion that there is a certain magic at work in life that allows us to connect, to heal, to make our own families. It is a winning notion. ((Reviewed September 15, 1997)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

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BookPage Reviews 1997 October
What is a magician's assistant to do when her magician dies? If she's strong and lucky, she learns to create her own magic, just as Ann Patchett does with her masterful new novel "The Magician's Assistant."Sabine had worked with and loved Parsifal for more than 20 years, since she had put down her cocktail tray at the age of 19 to step up onto the stage in response to Parsifal's glamorous smile and beckoning hand. But Parsifal was gay; he loved Phan, the soft-spoken Vietnamese software designer who shared Parsifal's life and who became Sabine's dearest friend. Having decided long ago that a platonic relationship with Parsifal was better than living without him, Sabine contented herself with learning the new acts, sharing a deep, almost familial bond with Phan and Parsifal and building her painstakingly detailed architectural models.But then Phan dies of AIDS, and Parsifal is diagnosed with the disease. Ironically, it is under these tragic circumstances that Sabine achieves the impossible dream of marriage to Parsifal, though the marriage is one in name only, Parsifal's way of insuring that Sabine will be financially secure after he is gone. Parsifal's own death is as surprising as one of his magic tricks - one minute he is sitting at the kitchen table, the next he is gone, leaving Sabine with her memories, an aching depression, a large Flemish rabbit and strange dream visitations from Phan which she doesn't remember when she awakens.She is also left with the startling news that Parsifal wasn't all he claimed to be. It's a discovery that sets her on a journey to take control of her life, and to claim a surprising new love of her own."The Magician's Assistant" is the third of Patchett's novels, following the justly acclaimed "The Patron Saint of Liars" and "Taft." Each novel is markedly different from the others. The characters could not be more disparate, ranging from the residents of a home for unwed mothers in Kentucky, to a black nightclub owner in Memphis, to a native Angelena set down in wintry Nebraska. At times it seems Patchett's books aren't fiction at all; it is as if they are oral histories recorded by a kind and forgiving transcriber. I know of no other writer who is able to - or who is brave enough to - tackle the challenge of creating characters of such varied races and backgrounds, making each one's voice and life so utterly believable.With "The Magician's Assistant," Patchett once again astounds us with the extraordinarily wise talent she displays. And, like a good magician should, she does it seamlessly and flawlessly, making it all look so very easy as she takes our breath away.Reviewed by Laurie Parker. Copyright 1999 BookPage Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 1997 August
Having produced wonders in two earlier novels (The Patron Saint of Liars, 1992; Taft, 1994), Patchett here conjures up a striking tale of pain and enchantment as an L.A. woman, who lost the love of her life after a few short months of marriage, finds unexpected consolation from her husband's family--a family she never knew he had. When Parsifal the Magician died suddenly of an aneurism, he left his assistant of 22 years, the statuesque Sabine, whom he'd recently married after his longtime gay partner Phan's death, heartbroken and numb. He also left a rude surprise: The family he always spoke of as dead is in fact alive and well in Alliance, Nebraska--and his mother and younger sister are soon on their way to see Sabine. Seemingly decent folk, the two women return home leaving her mystified as to why Parsifal (born Guy Fetters) would have denied their existence. And so, lonely and still paralyzed with grief, Sabine decides to visit them in the dead of a Nebraska winter, hoping for relief and some answers. She gets more than she bargained for when older sister Kitty, herself married to an abusive husband, reveals that Parsifal had accidentally killed his father in trying to keep him from beating their pregnant mother. After he did time in the reformatory, his family lost touch with him completely--until one night when they saw him and Sabine on the Johnny Carson show. The nightly replay of a video of that show became a family ritual of hope, especially for Kitty's two boys, now teenagers as desperate to get away as their uncle had been. Sabine, quite a magician herself, begins a process of healing for them all, and with it comes realization of the hope that the family had long cherished. Masterful in evoking everything from the good life in L.A. to the bleaker one on the Great Plains, and even to dreams of the dead: a saga of redemption tenderly and terrifically told. ($50,000 ad/promo; author tour) Copyright 1998 Kirkus Reviews

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Library Journal Reviews 1997 August
For two decades, Sabine has loved the magician Parsifal and served as his assistant. Theirs is an unorthodox relationship, however, for Parsifal loves men. When Parsifal's lover dies of AIDS, he marries Sabine so that she will be his widow. When Parsifal dies, Sabine receives some surprising news about his will. Believing her husband to have no living relatives, she is shocked to learn of a trust fund established for a mother and two sisters in Nebraska. When his family contacts her, she introduces them to the Los Angeles Parsifal. She then visits them in Nebraska to discover the truth about the man she loved and thought she knew, gaining insight into herself as well. Well written and full of interesting twists, this is recommended for larger collections. Kimberly G. Allen, networkMCI Lib., Washington, D.C. Copyright 1998 Library Journal Reviews

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 1997 July #2
As she proved in her two previous, critically praised novels, The Patron Saint of Liars and Taft, Patchett has the ability to leaven the gravity of sad situations with gentle irony and ultimate hope. Again in this novel, ordinary people drift into offbeat situations; kindness comes from unexpected sources; and the capacity to change, and to endure, can be awakened in a dormant heart. Sabine had been assistant to L.A. magician Parsifal for 22 years when they finally married. She knew he was homosexual; both had mourned the death of his gentle Vietnamese lover, Phan. What she didn't know until Parsifal's sudden death only a short time later was that Parsifal's real name was Guy Fetters, that had he lied when he claimed to have no living relatives and that he has a mother and two sisters in Alliance, Neb. When these four women meet each other, their combined love for Parsifal helps Sabine to accept the shocking events in Parsifal's life that motivated him to wipe out his past. In finding herself part of his family, she discovers her own desires, responsibilities and potential, and maybe her true sexual nature. The muted tone of this narrative matches Sabine's tentative moves in the void of her loss; yet Patchett's sweet and plangent voice often reminds one of Laurie Colwin in its evocation of love that transcends sexual boundaries and in the portrayal of reassuring patterns of domesticity. And Patchett's ability to evoke sense of place from the quintessential L.A., basking in heat and eccentric characters to the bare Nebraska landscape populated by bland, wholesome Midwesterners (who, of course, are not what they seem) and buffeted by blizzards and temperatures so low that Sabine feels the hook of her bra "freezing into her skin, the finest knifepoint against her is near magical in itself. If the narrative moves at a deliberately slow pace, it's rich with the rewarding contrast between the precise mechanics of magic tricks and the real possibility of magic in daily life. $50,000 ad/promo; author tour; U.K. and translation rights: ICM (Oct.) Copyright 1998 Publishers Weekly Reviews

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