Genre: Literary fiction
Year Published: 1997
Of the books I have loved in my life, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett stands out as one of the most mature and beautiful. For those of you who haven't read it, I won't spoil it -- I urge you to go pick up a copy and see for yourselves.
So naturally I began The Magician's Assistant with high hopes, but (perhaps inevitably) these hopes were dashed. The Magician's Assistant is not in the same universe as Bel Canto. You'll forgive me for making the obvious comparison, but if the latter is opera, the former is musical theater.
But let me for a moment examine the book on its own merits. Certainly I enjoyed The Magician's Assistant, but I found it to be too generic and predictable to really recommend it to you all, dear readers. And you must take me seriously when I call a book predictable, because I'm generally terrible at working out how things are going to end up. Yet I saw the arc of this as clearly as a contrail on a clear day.
The plot is simple: Sabine, the eponymous assistant, is the recent widow of Parsifal, a gay, HIV-positive magician who married her so that she would be taken care of after his death. Sabine had thought Parsifal had no family, but he did, and her interactions with them form the bulk of the novel. Self-discovery (often in the form of too-rational dreams) ensues.
I hate to bring up Bel Canto again, but that novel felt like a book that no one else could write, it was that original and heartbreaking. The Magician's Assistant felt like a book you could pull off the shelf and see any American woman's name on the cover. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it was just like every other middlebrow, female-authored book aimed at women from coast to coast. I prefer my reading to be a little quirkier, a little less marketable.
Recommended? You can pass it up.