The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett
Trade Paperback, 357 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1997
Synopsis from the cover:
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 is assistant and friend to Parsifal the magician for over twenty years, and his widow for a year. Parsifal marries Sabine to ensure her security after his partner, Phan, dies. Then Parsifal dies suddenly of a brain aneurysm and Sabine discovers that Parsifal was really named Guy Fetters and the family he said died in Connecticut is actually alive and living in Nebraska. Parsifal's mother and sister come to L.A. to learn something about the son/brother they haven't seen for many years and Sabine later travels to Nebraska, learning family secrets and something about herself. Along the way, Sabine's dreams about Phan, and later Parsifal, help her not only mourn the loss of her friend (and husband in name only), but lead her to self discovery.
Patchett is a talented writer and has a way of telling a story that really appeals to me. Her dialogue seems simple, but is cunningly realistic. Her characters have flaws, although in The Magician's Assistant, the deceased Parsifal and Phan are rather idealized. Patchett's writing shows respect for the complexities and nuances in her imperfect characters. We feel empathy as Sabine grieves and tries to learn about Parsifal's family. The ending wasn't entirely satisfactory, but it does make sense in the context of the whole novel. Highly Recommended
PARSIFAL IS DEAD. That is the end of the story. opening
Wasn't suffering exactly the thing she had been afraid of? That he would go like Phan, lingering in so many different kinds of pain, his body failing him in unimaginable ways--hadn't she hoped for something better for Parsifal? If he couldn't have held on to his life, then couldn't he at least have had some ease in his death? That was what had happened. Parsifal's death had been easy. pg 4
The night Phan died, Sabine had thought the tragedy was knowing that Parsifal would die, too, that there was only a limited amount of time. But now Sabine knew the tragedy was living, that there would be years and years to be alone. pg. 6
"I do love you." Parsifal said he wanted Sabine to be his widow. And Sabine deserved to be married. she had been in love with Parsifal since she was nineteen, since that first night at the Magic Hat.... She had been a waitress at the Hat, but on that night she became his assistant.... pg. 10
After the funeral Sabine moved downstairs to Phan and Parsifal's room. She slept in their bed. She pushed her head beneath their feather pillows. pg. 14
"Parsifal's name wasn't Petrie. It was Guy Fetters. Guy Fetters has a mother and two sisters in Nebraska. As far as I can tell the father is out of the picture - either dead or gone, I'm not sure which." ..... "There was a letter in his will. He wanted me to tell his family about his death. He's set up a trust fund for them, the mother and the sisters. You're not going to miss the money. The bulk of the estate is yours." pg. 23