Now that summer is here and there are no chorus rehearsals to prepare for and no tennis matches to recover from, I have gotten a chance to read a couple of books and watch some movies. I’ve read We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and The Magician’s Assistant recently and enjoyed both but if I had to choose one I’d give the nod to the second choice. I would say this book could be described as elegiac, and I’d made up my mind that I’d turn and run from any book that had that word used to describe it after reading The Sea by John Banville, which won the Man Booker Prize and is described on Amazon as “luminous” as well as elegiac. Three strikes against! I read that book for a group discussion and there was 100% agreement that The Sea was one of the most boring books we’d read. It’s right up there with A Sport of Nature by Nadine Gordimer which we’d read many years previously and held up ever since as the standard bearer of painfully boring books by award-winning authors. Sport of Nature was the book for my first meeting and I naively thought at the time that when you committed to a book group it meant you were committing to the reading of the selected book each month in its entirety, period. I got to the meeting and found out no one else had bothered to finish the book. I still believe if you join a book group you should read the book or not go to the meeting.
What Ann Patchett has done here with The Magician’s Assistant is nothing less than sleight of pen. Yes, it’s about grief and loss and wallowing, but it’s also about the magic of love, whenever and wherever it can be found. I read all the one star reviews on Amazon and find some of the complaints about the book valid but still, there is something about it that satisfies, even though I agree with the 1-star reviewer who found him/herself saying, “Huh?” at the puzzling end. Maybe I was just grateful I’d made it to the end and the book hadn’t devolved into the wrenching violence I kept expecting from reading all those Oprah books back in the Book Group days. They all had at least one episode of horrific violence which often felt like it was dropped into the book arbitrarily and for the sole purpose of getting Oprah’s attention and therefore selling lots more books. The worst offender for me in that category was Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts in which (major spoiler alert if you haven’t read it) a very minor child character was brutally raped by an even more minor character in the book and then never mind and on we go with the rest of the story. Yes, there is violence in this current book, but it makes sense within the context of the story and serves a purpose in driving the plot. Yes, I get it that extreme violence happens to unsuspecting innocent people all the time and it makes no sense. That’s why they call it senseless. There’s plenty of it to go around in real life, I don’t want it in my books.
The other book, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a good read too, and I suspect most people will find it more to their liking. I read it. I liked it. I just wasn’t affected by it in the same way. I think Patchett’s prose just carries me along effortlessly. I found myself stopping and noticing the effort behind the prose more in Fowler’s writing. Also, I guess I’d rather have a bit of, “Huh?” at the end of a serious book than a sweetly tied bow. Just me surprising myself.
Movies: “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” and “Sweet Land.” Both good in their own way. So nice to have a breather from the blockbusters and all their noisy explosions. Sweet. Sad. Funny. Moving. Satisfying. Small films with big hearts. Thanks for the recommendations Netflix. Your algorithms are working.