Synopses & Reviews
"A secretive magicians death becomes the catalyst for his partners journey self-discovery in this “enchanting” book (San Francisco Chronicle) “that is something of a magic trick in itself” (Newsweek).
When Parsifal, a handsome and charming magician, dies suddenly, his widow Sabine—who was also his faithful assistant for twenty years—learns that the family he claimed to have lost in a tragic accident is very much alive and well. Sabine is left to unravel his secrets, and the journey she takes, from sunny Los Angeles to the bitter windswept plains of Nebraska, will work its own magic on her. Sabine's extraordinary tale, “with its big dreams, vast spaces, and disparate realities lying side by side” captures the hearts of its readers and “proves to be the perfect place for miraculous transformations” (The New Yorker
"Masterful in evoking everything from the good life in L.A. to the bleaker one on the Great Plains...: a saga of redemption tenderly and terrifically told." Kirkus Reviews
"This engaging, supple plot is played out against a backdrop of dreams, flashbacks, and long, elliptical conversations....With her quiet playfulness, Sabine's touch is as light and sure as that of the author who created her." Kate Tuttle, Boston Book Review
"[T]he kindliness of The Magician's Assistant is beguiling, and Patchett is an adroit, graceful writer who knows enough tricks to keep her story entertaining....The real appeal...lies in the small, accumulating ways in which Sabine and the Fetters family assist one another out of isolation and sorrow. By the end, they have all been somewhat transformed yes, by the magic of love." Suzanne Berne, New York Times Book Review
"The [characters] have a wonderfulness that collectively can be unnerving. But mostly they ARE wonderful, as well as individual, smart and battling hard. There is something of allegory in Patchett's novel. There are times when its insistent current toward redemption risks flooding the life along the way, and there is a suggestion of the author's hand hovering at the sluice gate. Rarely does it do more than hover, though: rarely does the flood level do more than lap at the ingenious life and liveliness that Patchett has devised." Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Magicians and their assistants may be masters of misdirection and slight of hand, but novelist Ann Patchett is the real thing. Patchett does have a trick or two up her sleeve... her controlled, evocative prose for one; the uncanny way she makes the most surprising twists seem absolutely inevitable; not to mention the wisdom and tenderness with which she portrays the illusions that keep lovers and families together and those that rend them apart." Alix Madrigal, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
"Patchett's third and finest novel....Patchett's lush and suspenseful story is also a portrait of America..." New Yorker
When Parsifal, a handsome and charming magician, dies suddenly, his widow Sabine who was also his faithful assistant for twenty years learns that the family he claimed to have lost in a tragic accident is very much alive and well.
Sabine is left to unravel his secrets, and the adventure she embarks upon, from sunny Los Angeles to the bitter windswept plains of Nebraska, will work its own magic on her. Sabine's extraordinary tale will capture the heart of its readers just as Sabine herself is captured by her quest.
When Parsifal, a handsome and charming magician, dies suddenly, his widow Sabine — who was also his faithful assistant for twenty years — learns that the family he claimed to have lost in a tragic accident is very much alive and well. Sabine is left to unravel his secrets, and the adventure she embarks upon, from sunny Los Angeles to the bitter windswept plains of Nebraska, will work its own magic on her. Sabine's extraordinary tale will capture the hearts of its readers just as Sabine is captured by her quest.
A reissue of Ann Patchett's third novel, about a magician who dies leaving his wife to discover a lifetime of secrets he kept from her
Sabine-- twenty years a magician's assistant to her handsome, charming husband-- is suddenly a widow. In the wake of his death, she finds he has left a final trick; a false identity and a family allegedly lost in a tragic accident but now revealed as very much alive and well. Named as heirs in his will, they enter Sabine's life and set her on an adventure of unraveling his secrets, from sunny Los Angeles to the windswept plains of Nebraska, that will work its own sort of magic on her.
About the Author
Ann Patchett is the author of two previous novels, The Patron Saint of Liars, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and Taft, which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize. She has written for many publications, including Elle, GQ, The Paris Review, and Vogue. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Reading Group Guide
Q> Sabine never had the kind of passionate love with Parsifal that her mother has with her father and that Bertie has with Haas. Is it possible to be happy in a marriage without it? Was Sabine genuinely happy with Parsifal? Dot tells Sabine she has never experienced this kind of passion either. Do you think finding your true love is destiny or luck? Q> The settings of this novel play an important role in defining the characters. Los Angeles is a city where "there are no laws against pre-tending to be something you weren't." Considering that he was born in a conservative Midwestern town and that he killed his father there, was the illusion Parsifal created about his past understandable or was he selfish? If Parsifal had been born and raised in New York City or Chicago, would his illusion have been necessary? Q> Sabine's dreams help her journey through her grief. She believes that "sometimes it was possible for someone to come back." Do you think Phan and Parsifal are really coming back from the "beyond" in her dreams? Why is it Phan and not Parsifal whom she dreams about first? Why do you think Sabine was able to have such a good relationship with her husband's lover when he was alive? Q> On the plane to Nebraska, Sabine looks out of the window and reflects that "it looked like a world she would build herself, the order and neatness of miniature." What is she revealing about herself? Are the miniature buildings she creates saying something important about her personality or is that just her job? When her airplane is struck by violent turbulence, she thinks dying then wouldn't be so terrible. Do you think Sabine really wants to die? Q> The first magic trick that Sabine performs in Nebraska is when she pulls an egg out from behind Dots ear. What is significant about her doing this trick at this very moment? Gradually, Sabine performs more and more magic tricks. What is happening to her emotionally that the magic reveals? Is she discovering something about her own ability or is she simply carrying on for Parsifal? Q> Watching the Johnny Carson video is like a religion for Dot's family. Why is it so important to them? Sabine watches it with them twice. While watching it the first time what does she realize about their magic act and her role as the magician's assistant? How is her reaction different the second time she watches it, and why? Q> Sabine finally dreams about Parsifal. But at first she thinks that he is Kitty. Was this just a mistake because they look so much alike or is it more meaningful? Do you think that Sabine and Kitty are really gay? Do you think they would have fallen in love had each of them not loved Parsifal? Kitty says that she dreams of Parsifal and Phan too. Are we supposed to think that Parsifal has somehow brought them together? Q> A big part of a magician's trick is the skillful manipulation of the audience. Is Sabine manipulating the Fetters? When she performs the card trick that enrages Howard, do you think it was an honest mistake? Do you think Kitty leaves him simply because he hurts Bertie? Do you think that if Howard had been a better husband and father Kitty and Sabine would have fallen in love? Q> At Bertie's wedding, Sabine does Parsifal's card trick from her dream. Is there a secret to this trick or is it really "magic"? She tells her assistant at the wedding that she doesn't know how she pulled it off. Is Sabine telling the truth? In her dream Parsifal's card trick causes great excitement, but at the wedding the guests are more impressed by how she shuffles the cards. Why doesn't this disappoint Sabine? Q> The Magician's Assistant begins, "Parsifal is dead. That is the end of the story." Is Parsifal s death really the end of the story? In her last dream, Sabine waves goodbye to him. Do you think she will dream about Parsifal again? Do you think Kitty will finally leave Al and go to Los Angeles with Sabine?
Copyright (c) 1998. Published in the U.S. by Harcourt, Inc.