This week I finished The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett. Every summer I make it my goal to read at least one of her books because it helps me decompress after a long academic year. This summer’s book has been on my shelf for a few years and it was a treat to get to it finally.
I like the way the author uses rich descriptions. While the content is always vastly different, the feeling invoked from reading such vivid text is the same. I use her books as a treat for myself, and have not strayed from my tradition in over a decade. In this particular novel she explains, “Young. Parsifal shone with health. It came like light from his skin. He was an advertisement for milk. For fresh air and sunshine. For life in beautiful Southern California” (Patchett 198). Her pairing of sentence lengths with figurative language slows the reader just enough to make them take notice, yet not enough to make the lose interest.
The narrative voice is that of Sabine, (I hope you are sitting down) the magician’s assistant. After the loss of her magician, husband, and general guide, she struggles to understand a past she never knew existed. Parsifal had buried his pain deep, and now Sabine is after it with a shovel in both hands. Her investigation takes her to Nebraska and a family he had not disclosed in their two decade relationship. While Sabine is taken back at first, she eventually understands why his origins were not divulged. “Sabine pulled out. She would take them to the cemetery. She would take them to the hotel. And then she would get these people the hell out of her car,” encapsulates her first impressions of the newly found mother and sister in law (46).
The book is structured with a series of flashbacks, across several decades, as Sabine spans half of the country looking for answers. She is deep in the grieving process when Bertie and Dot Fetters show up in Los Angeles. After a brief visit, where she is left with more questions than answers, Sabine decides to visit the Fetters’ home in Nebraska. I would start reading a flashback before I realized that Patchett had hooked me, “Sabine realized that all of this was meant to insult her, that the great wave of awkwardness that came up from every corner of the room, save Howard Plate’s, was the embarrassment generated on her behalf,” exemplifies how Patchett develops a strong internal monologue for her narrator, but then she draws the reader with a flashback as Sabine continues, “But Sabine herself, still standing after the handshake, didn’t feel insulted or embarrassed. She only felt a vaguely tired sort of depression because it wasn’t summer, because she wasn’t sitting next to the pool underneath the shade of the big red umbrella with Phan while Parsifal brought out three Beefeater tonics” (207). Patchett goes on the explain all of the idiosyncrasies that develop a character, even a secondary or deceased character, fully.
While this wasn’t my favorite book by this author, and I did feel the ending looming as the book drew to a close, it was still satisfying to enjoy Patchett’s richly descriptive work in continuation of my personal tradition.