After disliking both Bel Canto and State of Wonder, I’d all but given up on Ann Patchett’s novels. JoAnn suggested I try The Magician’s Assistant as a last chance, and I chose to listen to it.

About the Book:

The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett (audiobook cover)It isn’t until the charismatic Parsifal, Sabine’s husband and the magician she assisted for years, dies suddenly that Sabine discovers his secret: the family he claimed perished in a car accident long ago is actually alive and well in middle-of-nowhere Nebraska. When Kitty and Dot Fetters, sister and mother, respectively, of Guy Fetters — that’s Parsifal to Sabine — decide to visit Los Angeles to meet Sabine and see where Guy lived, Sabine finds herself drawn into Parsifal’s past, seeking comfort in these women who were so close to her husband and partner so long ago.

Does that (somewhat clumsy) summary make this one sound odd? Don’t get too hung up on it. Patchett manages to make it all work, somehow!

My Thoughts:

My issue with the two other Patchett novels I’ve read has been the ending. I enjoyed both books until the final pages, where the directions in which Patchett took both stories effectively severed my emotional connection to them — a rather disappointing conclusion to any book! I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Magician’s Assistant worked somewhat opposite for me, drawing me further and further inside itself as the story moved forward and (thankfully!) never letting go.

At first, I didn’t think I’d be able to connect much with Sabine, a glamorous magician’s assistant living the a cushy life in Los Angeles with her husband and his gay lover (I’ll let you read the book yourself to learn about that situation). Yet, as Sabine’s story unfolded, I found myself warming to her as she struggled to come to terms with her grief and redefine her suddenly solitary life. Through the Fetters family, Sabine encounters a world so different from her own that it both forces her to face reality and helps her on her journey. Patchett ended The Magician’s Assistant in precisely the right place, in my opinion, which left me feeling both satisfied and relieved this particular ending hadn’t gone the way of the others of Patchett’s I’d read!

The audiobook was read by Karen Ziemba. She’s a new narrator to me, but I liked the way her cool, polished voice matched the way I imagined Sabine. I very much enjoyed the audio production and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

Has The Magician’s Assistant restored my willingness to try more by Ann Patchett? I’d say it has. I do have Run and The Patron Saint of Liars on my shelf already, so I’m sure I’ll try at least one of those. For readers who have had similarly disappointing experiences with Ann Patchett’s novels, The Magician’s Assistant is different enough that I’d recommend it as a nice change of pace. Thanks to JoAnn for suggesting it to me!

Those are my thoughts. Check out The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett on Goodreads or LibraryThing, read other bloggers’ reviews, or listen to an Audible sample!

Join the Conversation


  1. For some reason I didn’t know she had any other novels out there besides the two you said you didn’t like. I’ve tried reading Bel Canto a couple times and just was never able to get into it (in print or on audio). I should try some others. This one does sound interesting.

  2. So many people have a love/hate relationship with Patchett that I’m terrified to read anything by her. I have Bel Canto on the shelf, but perhaps I should start here. Sounds like a wonderful read and will fix my initial impressions.

  3. I haven’t yet read this one, but your review really piques my interest and makes me want to run out and grab it as soon as I can. I have had good luck with Patchett in the past, and I have been wanting another recommendation from her collection, so this came at a good time for me. Excellent review today! I am glad that you had such success with this book!

  4. Your review was really interesting to me because while I know that the ending of State of Wonder bothered a lot of people, I am not one of them. Then again, I didn’t absolutely fall head over heels for State of Wonder in the first place, so perhaps I didn’t have as much at stake as a reader. I do wonder now whether I would like this book better!

  5. I’m so happy you gave this a try, Erin! The Magician’s Assistant is by far my favorite of Patchett’s novels. After reading your review, I want to read it again. Unfortunately, I loaned my copy to a friend (along with The Patron Saint of Liars) several years ago and never got either back. Maybe I’ll try the library.

    Your mention of ‘ending issues’ makes me realize that I can’t remember how either Run or The Patron Saint of Liars actually ends… not sure if that’s a good thing 😉

  6. My first Patchett was “Bel Canto” which remains one of my all-time favorites. So when I picked this one up, I expected to be blown away again. While I did really like it, I think I might have liked it even better if I hadn’t been measuring it against something I loved so much. Glad to hear this one convinced you to try more Patchett.

  7. I am so glad to see that you liked this one. I had ending issue with State of Wonder, so I’m glad that Magician’s Assistant doesn’t have it. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  8. Lots of credit to you for giving her a third shot! If I don’t like the first and I take a chance on the second it had better be good!
    I liked (a lukewarm like) Bel Canto and have State of Wonder on my shelf. Now you have me thinking I should read a different one next!

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