Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Book Review: The Magician's Assistant

While looking for a book to take a long for beach reading, I remembered Ann Patchett's Bel Canto and how much I enjoyed it from cover to cover. Luckily, on Border's shelf was another by Patchett entitled The Magician's Assistant, which I get wrong every time I tell someone--Magician's Wife usually because that's what it is about. Unlike Bel Canto, which takes place in South America and has a colorful global cast of characters enduring a wild hostage situation, Magician's Assistant is set in Californian and Nebraska. A notable magician dies on the first page, and we get to know him throughout the book during flashbacks and dreams. His assistant, now his wife, has the gift of dreaming about and communicating with those who have passed over into the next life. They guide and support her (Sabine) as she begins to live a new life without the man she has loved for twenty years, yet magically more connected to him than was possible during their life together.

The deceased magician was gay, with a partner. Sabine marries him after the partner dies from AIDS, and partners him through his own AIDS illness, only to stand by helplessly as he dies suddenly from a brain aneurysm. Patchett has done a skillful job of placing love at the center of the characters' world without hedging it in with social or religious expectations. Sabine's love for the magician is boundless, following him beyond the grave. She has been the one confidant in his life, sharing the secrets of the most profound magic tricks, but never knowing the man behind the magic.

The first few chapters are not hot page turners. It was easy to put the book down to close my eyes and listen to the roar of the ocean or the Cuban music over the poolside speakers. But once the plot and main characters were laid out, my reading pace quickened. I wanted Sabine to be happy again, to find love again, and to get to know her magician, if only through her dreams. Patchett kept my attention; I rarely skimmed any page--a bad habit of mine when I'm hurrying toward the finish. Each word of dialogue and descriptive passage moves the plot along and tells me something more about Sabine or the secrets she's trying to find.

I finished the book on the plane during the return flight. Perfect timing. Sabine would return to California, all was well. The plane flew right over the Bal Harbor Resort and I had a bird's eye view--as if from a dream--of the meandering pool and tropical paradise in which I'd come to know Sabine.

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