“Parsifal is dead,” is the opening sentence of Ann Patchett‘s third novel The Magician’s Assistant. At first I was drawn into this story, eager to know more about the characters and whatever secrets they had. But, I will admit I never finished the book because my empathy for the characters was ever-diminishing.
The narrator is the magician’s assistant, Sabine. The magician is Parsifal, a gay man whose day job is owner of a rug store in Los Angeles. The beautiful Sabine has spent her whole youth in love with Parsifal. She is a live-in who helps him take care of his Vietnamese partner, Phan, who dies from AIDS. Afterwards, she marries Parsifal because he wants her to be his widow but instead of dying himself from AIDS in several years, he unexpectedly has a brain aneurysm that kills him. So here we have Sabine, so obsessively in love with a dead gay man who never loved her, left in utter despair in her bereavement. Then she finds out that everything she knew about him over the course of the about 20 years she had been his assistant is a lie when his estranged family from Alliance, Nebraska show up for their inheritance as dictated by his will.
In some twist, she ends up going to Alliance to stay with his family, sleeping in his room, and getting acquainted with his life before her. She also experiences trances or dreams where Phan visits her from the afterlife and gives her advice and support.
“Parsifal is dead.” That should have been the end of the story.