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The Magician's Assistant

Third -- and breakthrough -- novel by an acclaimed American writer with an enchanting, quirky voice. The Magician's Assistant is at once a love story and a brilliant portrayal of reinvention about a magician who dies leaving his assistant/wife to discover he has lied about his past. A magician (with one memorable appearance on the Johnny Carson Show to his credit) takes the name Parsifal. He is gay. He has a Vietnamese lover, Phan. When Phan dies of AIDS, Parsifal marries the woman who has always adored him and who has lived with them both, his assistant Sabine. Then Parsifal himself dies in California, suddenly and shockingly, of an aneurysm. Parsifal always said that he had no living family and that he came from wealthy upscale Connecticut stock. The reality is very different, as Sabine learns from his lawyer. He came from a poor Nebraska family and they are very much alive. Indeed his mother and sister are on their way to California to meet Sabine, the daughter- and sister-in-law they know nothing about. It is bad that her husband has died. What Sabine must now cope with is coming to terms with his horrific past and the reason he divorced himself from his family and roots.
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About the Author

Ann Patchett is originally from Los Angeles and is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College. She is the author of two earlier novels, The Patron Saint of Liars and Taft. She lives in Nashville and is the Tennessee Williams Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of the South.


As she proved in her two previous, critically praised novels, The Patron Saint of Liars and Taft, Patchett has the ability to leaven the gravity of sad situations with gentle irony and ultimate hope. Again in this novel, ordinary people drift into offbeat situations; kindness comes from unexpected sources; and the capacity to change, and to endure, can be awakened in a dormant heart. Sabine had been assistant to L.A. magician Parsifal for 22 years when they finally married. She knew he was homosexual; both had mourned the death of his gentle Vietnamese lover, Phan. What she didn't know until Parsifal's sudden death only a short time later was that Parsifal's real name was Guy Fetters, that had he lied when he claimed to have no living relatives and that he has a mother and two sisters in Alliance, Neb. When these four women meet each other, their combined love for Parsifal helps Sabine to accept the shocking events in Parsifal's life that motivated him to wipe out his past. In finding herself part of his family, she discovers her own desires, responsibilities and potential, and maybe her true sexual nature. The muted tone of this narrative matches Sabine's tentative moves in the void of her loss; yet Patchett's sweet and plangent voice often reminds one of Laurie Colwin in its evocation of love that transcends sexual boundaries and in the portrayal of reassuring patterns of domesticity. And Patchett's ability to evoke sense of place‘from the quintessential L.A., basking in heat and eccentric characters to the bare Nebraska landscape populated by bland, wholesome Midwesterners (who, of course, are not what they seem) and buffeted by blizzards and temperatures so low that Sabine feels the hook of her bra "freezing into her skin, the finest knifepoint against her spine"‘is near magical in itself. If the narrative moves at a deliberately slow pace, it's rich with the rewarding contrast between the precise mechanics of magic tricks and the real possibility of magic in daily life. $50,000 ad/promo; author tour; U.K. and translation rights: ICM (Oct.)

For two decades, Sabine has loved the magician Parsifal and served as his assistant. Theirs is an unorthodox relationship, however, for Parsifal loves men. When Parsifal's lover dies of AIDS, he marries Sabine so that she will be his widow. When Parsifal dies, Sabine receives some surprising news about his will. Believing her husband to have no living relatives, she is shocked to learn of a trust fund established for a mother and two sisters in Nebraska. When his family contacts her, she introduces them to the Los Angeles Parsifal. She then visits them in Nebraska to discover the truth about the man she loved and thought she knew, gaining insight into herself as well. Well written and full of interesting twists, this is recommended for larger collections.‘Kimberly G. Allen, networkMCI Lib., Washington, D.C.

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