Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thursday Review: The Magician's Assistant

If you get a chance, watch "The Great Buck Howard," "The Illusionist," or "The Prestige," all of which are magician-themed movies that are better than this book.

The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett
June 16, 2005
(3/5 stars)

I can summarize my overall review by simply saying this book was a very slow read for me. There was nothing much to sustain the story, because Sabine pretty much finds out everything about Parsifal in the first half of the book. There was no mystery and no obstacles to her discovering the truth about her past, hence no real drama for me as the reader.

Once she gets to Nebraska, Howard Plate shoving Bertie against a wall, which required a dozen stitches, was the only real excitement. That and a trip to Wal-Mart. Mostly it was just long, tortured prose as Sabine hangs around her mother-in-law's house in Nebraska for a couple weeks. The couple lesbian kisses made the book a little more exciting near the end, but that was pretty much it. The rest of it was just a chore to plow through.

The end was also one of what I call "nonendings", which are the bane of my reading existence. Nonendings are endings that don't resolve anything or really give me any idea what direction the characters are going to take. Imagine the main character comes to a fork in the road at the end of the book. One road goes left, the other right. And that's where the book ends, before we even know where our character is going to the kinds of things he/she may find. I always find that irritating.

The book also relies entirely too much on vivid dream sequences. There are at least a half-dozen in the book where Sabine is basically communing with her dead husband's lover, Phan. The first couple I found interesting, but I think the author made a few too many trips to that well. I find lengthy dream sequences irritating as well.

The writing is sound and the characters are relatively interesting. As a Midwesterner, born and raised, I think the Nebraska people are pretty spot-on, though the town of Alliance had no personality. Other books like Richard Russo's "Empire Falls" do a much better job of bringing a small town to life.

Now you can say the point here is that Sabine finds family, except that Sabine was already close to her family. That was never a problem for her. The trip to Nebraska brings her closer to Parsifal's family, but she's not discovering the joy of family, because she already had that. So what then is the point of the book? Search me. At least she got some closure and met some interesting people.


  1. I've read one or two Ann Patchett books left around from Mrs. C's book club and I wasn't impressed. I agree that she's a slow read.

  2. I gather you're not in the "let the reader decide what happens next" at the end of a book. I can't say that I blame you.

  3. I haven't read any Magician-themed books. I should change that.

  4. Oh, you must have hated "Up So Down" then.

    I don't mind the nonendings if they serve a purpose and fit in with the story.

    I've heard so much about Ann Patchett, and each time I think "Hmmm, maybe I want to read that." And then I don't. I think it's because the reviews I've read, like this, that suggested the ideas were more compelling than the actual story.

    1. I liked "Up So Down" but I would have liked a more concrete ending.

  5. Weird, though: I just started reading a book called "The Magician" today, and then I see this and Michael's comment.

    1. @Briane - Not the Lev Grossman book is it? I liked that one ok.

  6. Never tried Ann - she has a bookstore over in Nashville that she runs after Borders left town. But her insistence that she doesn't write fantasy has always bugged me. So I've never read.

  7. I read a little of this book. I fell asleep. No magic in this book. I made it vanish.



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