Last year I shared the best fiction and nonfiction books I read in 2021. I shall now continue that newfangled tradition by naming my favorite (read) books of 2022.
The first book I read last year – The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett – turned out to be my favorite. Here’s the skinny: I don’t understand a gosh dern thing about magic or card tricks and I have less than zero desire to learn. Mimes and puppets are about the only things that interest me less than magic. If I hadn’t read six of Patchett’s other novels, I wouldn’t have downloaded a book that featured a bunny rabbit on the cover.
But my bestie introduced me to Patchett’s Commonwealth a few years ago. The book legit drew me in on page one and never let me go. As is my way, I dedicated myself to reading as much of Patchett’s work as possible. In addition to Commonwealth, I highly recommend Bel Canto and Dutch House. I loved Dutch House so much that I almost regret reading it. No. That is not a misprint.
There are a couple Patchett books I’m meh about, including the one set in Kentucky. With that in mind, as well as my unenthusiastic feelings for magic, I didn’t know how I would feel about The Magician’s Assistant, which was published in 1997. One more thing. By the time I began the book, I had also forgotten the synopsis, so when I started reading it, I was about as ignorant as a person could be.
Just as with Commonwealth, Patchett drew me in on the first page of The Magician’s Assistant. I stubbornly refused to return to the synopsis, which I think enhanced my enjoyment of the book. I was asking myself questions like, “Self, who is this lady, Sabine? What is her deal? Why is she at a hospital? Who is the man she’s with? Oh, he’s her husband. Oh, my stars! He died!”
That is not a spoiler as the synopsis – the one I had forgotten – lays out the fact that Sabine, the magician’s assistant, is widowed when her husband, the magician, dies. That’s only the beginning of the story. What follows is the rawest depiction of grief I have ever read. There’s a passage where Sabine takes people from her husband’s past (I won’t spoil it and reveal how they’re connected to him) to places he frequented. The way one of them reacts haunts me. She’s wrecked by guilt and grief and all she wants is a connection with a loved one she lost years ago. There’s another passage where a teenage boy asks Sabine if a trick really was magic. His need to believe hurts my heart.
I don’t want to make The Magician’s Assistant, which takes readers from Los Angeles to Nebraska, sound like a weepy. It’s not a laugh fest, either, but it is a book full of good people. I miss those people. One criticism I’ve read is that Sabine is a boring protagonist who doesn’t do anything. Things just happen to her. Well, that’s not exactly true. But even if it were true, so what? She’s not a superhero. She, like the book’s other characters, is just a woman dealing with life the only way she knows how.
My favorite character in The Magician’s Assistant is Dot. Dot is wise. She knows you can’t make people do what’s in their best interest. The best you can hope for is that you get that sewing room you’ve always wanted.
Tune in next week for the title of the best nonfiction book I read in 2022.