March 11, 2006
The Magician's Assistant
The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
Rating: B+ (7/10 Good)
Ann Patchett has written four novels and a memoir and up until now, I’d only read Bel Canto (which, incidentally, made my Top Ten list for 2004). The Magician’s Assistant is one of those books I kept hearing good things about, but which remained on my shelf far too long –- until last month when I wandered around the house and picked out an armful of books that I’d always meant to get to -- sort of a “determination stack” for my March reading list. (So far, so good. The stack is actually getting smaller in spite of my frequent visits to the library.)
As I discovered with Bel Canto, this is not a book for everyone. It’s a quiet, character-driven read with very little action, although there is a foreboding sense of drama that is slowly revealed in the second half of the narrative. While it could have been a quick read, I chose to take my time (as I did with Bel Canto), savoring Patchett’s prose, lingering over the minute details of the story. I would have given the book a higher rating, but the abrupt ending was somewhat disappointing, although not entirely surprising.
The story takes place in both L.A. and Alliance, Nebraska, the latter of which is unfortunately depicted in somewhat of a negative manner (“In fact, the entire state of Nebraska defied imagination. Who actually lives there?”). Newly widowed Sabine learns the truth of her husband’s past and discovers love and friendship as she comes to terms with her own role in the unfolding drama and future in her newly acquired family. This is a story of truth and deception, all in the name of love and family. Smoke and mirrors. Trap doors and distraction. As with magic, not all is as it appears to be, and not everything that appears to be real truly is.