Monday, November 28, 2011
Review: The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay
Publisher: Knopf Canada
(not released in the US until 2012)
Ami McKay has done it again, a phenomenal book that is sure to be a bestseller. While many readers loved her first novel The Birth House, McKay completely shifts gears in The Virgin Cure and proves herself to be a extraordinary writer once again. The main character Moth lives with her mother in the tenements of lower Manhattan in the late nineteenth century. Her father named her and took off shortly after when she was three years old. Her mother was never able to have Moth respond to any other name, and as a result the name stuck. By the age of twelve, Moth has lived in misery. Her mother keeps her distance, and Moth has had to provide her own food and keep herself safe. When life seems bleak, it only gets worst for Moth when her mother sells her to become a service maid. Her life is about to spiral out of control and Moth has no time to let reality sink in. While Moth is amused by the lives of the rich, her intrigue is quickly swept away when she becomes a victim of abuse. Mrs. Wentworth becomes cruel, and crazed. Moth enlists the help of a friend, and is able to escape and go home. When she knocks on her apartment door and realizes that her mother is no longer living there, Moth is beyond hurt, knowing her mother never had any intentions of seeing her again. She simply sold her to the highest bidder, and ran off. Now, Moth has to use her survival skills once again and get herself off the streets. Ultimately, Moth ends up living in a brothel and becomes Miss Everett’s newest student. She caters to gentlemen who pay for companions who are “willing and clean.” If Moth wants a place to live, she must follow the rules and play along.
The Virgin Cure is sure to please many types of readers. Although it is mostly a historical fiction read, it goes beyond the historical facts. McKay explores the dilapidated tenements of New York, and uncovers a shady past while depicting strong, independent-minded women. Women who have little control over their circumstances but hold strong to the little independence that still remains. Choices can always be made, but consequences ensue. Moth befriends Sadie, a female doctor who initially tends to her when she comes to the brothel and tried to steer Moth in a different direction, at the very least she tries to educated Moth on the misconceptions of “Virgins” and their ability to cure syphilis in men. McKay immerses her readers into her fictional world, and includes quotes, news articles, magazines, advertisements, and journals from the time period. This story is not a pleasant read, depicting poverty stricken women with little options, but the setting is not overpowering. Underlining is the story of the struggle for survival and dreams of a possible brighter future.