Around December/January time is the perfect time to read this wintery novel by Ann Patchett; a novel which spans from the busy warmth of Los Angeles to the desolate midwinter cold of Nebraska bringing warmth of a different kind.
The Magician's Assistant follows Sabine's life after the death of her husband Parsifal, the Magician to whom Sabine was the assistant. But there's a twist in this tale from the beginning. That Parsifal was a homosexual Sabine was well aware. She had lived with him and his Vietnamese lover, Phan, in the time before Phan's death from AIDS. And she had nursed Parsifal through his own sickness until his sudden death from a ruptured aneurism, as his wife in name and spirit if not in body. That Sabine had loved Parsifal was a truth that had held her life together to that point. That Parsifal was not who she had believed he was was the dark secret that threatens to blow Sabine's life apart.
After Parsifal's death, Sabine discovers that he had a family still living in Nebraska. Having been told by Parsifal that he'd grown up in Connecticut and that his family had all been killed in an accident, the existence of this living family came as a complete surprise to her. This discover leads to the inevitable questions: why did he lie to her, and what had happened in the past to so totally separate him from his family.
Sabine becomes more confused when his mother and youngest sister, Bertie, visit. To her surprise, his family are lovely, his mother caring and tragically saddened by her son's death. They knew he was a homosexual, and yet they accept the strangeness of Sabine's relationship with him easily. After a brief visit to Los Angeles, they invite Sabine to visit Parsifal's old home in Nebraska to visit for Bertie's wedding which is due to take place in just a few week's time. To her surprise, Sabine agrees to go. A few days later she's on a plan to Nebraska, sending herself into the cold, darkness of Parsifal's past, searching for the truth.
I won't spoil the story by giving away too much of the detail. Suffice to say that in the wide open spaces of the American Midwest Sabine finds a claustrophobic community, she confront's Parsifal's darker past and finds love, and magic, where she least expects it.
The Magician's Assistant is a quietly beautiful novel. Suffused with emotion this is a story of love and loss and love again. Some of my favourite parts of this book involve the dreams in which Sabine reconnects with the lost Phan and, eventually, Parsifal. This is a novel which gives us hope that love can live on beyond the grave, that after the loss of a great love we can still find something more. That magic comes in many forms, and not all of it a trick. This was a book which was hard to put down, and easy to revisit.
The Magician's Assistant receives a magical 8 out of 10 Biis.