I swear, I have read books that are not by Ann Patchett. Sometimes I just read books in binges. This is the end of my Ann Patchett binge.
Anyway, The Magician's Assistant is about Sabine, assistant to her gay magician husband Parsifal, who has just died. And, yes, that relationship sounds somewhat ridiculous, but it is actually very sweet. They got married because Parsifal's lover (There has got to be a better word for that! Partner? Not much better.) had just died of AIDS and Parsifal had just been diagnosed. Parsifal and Sabine truly loved each other, just without a sexual component, so it was a marriage of companionship between two people who wanted to find comfort in each other.
So Parsifal has just died and Sabine finds out from the will that he left money to his mother and sisters in Nebraska. Who he had previously told her were dead. And from Connecticut. (Parsifal is obviously not his real name. But he had a fake real name, in addition to his actual real name, which is Guy Fetters.) So then his family flies out to Sabine's house in California and she later flies back to them in Nebraska, where she learns about Parsifal's past.
Part of The Magician's Assistant is about how people you know and love can have huge secrets they never tell you and part of it is how Sabine connects with people who are very different from her on the surface. Again, the situation is all about personal connections for Patchett and not as much about drama, although there is plenty of family secrets to be had. It's also about family. Sabine, Parsifal, and Parsifal's lover were a family and now Sabine adds on to that with the Fetters.
It's a lovely book, although I think Bel Canto was just a leetle bit better. And also, this book contains what is the most touching description of shopping at Wal-Mart that I have ever seen.