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The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay
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The Virgin Cure (2011)

by Ami McKay

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English (51)  Italian (1)  All languages (52)
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
One of my favorite places in NYC is the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. The museum brings to life the experiences of various long-ago immigrants who settled in that building throughout it's existence. I always marvel at the hardship these people dealt with, and rose above.
This book reads like one of these experiences, only the main character, Moth, has a harder life and then it gets even worse. Raised in extreme poverty, she is awaken in the middle of the night to find her mother has, in desperation, sold her into servitude. She goes willingly, wanting to help her mother and herself. Things get worse.
Moth is a strong, clever, resilient character and the story never gets mired in misery, in fact it reads a bit "light". That does not detract form the story because the story-telling is so good. A great book for adults and YA's!! ( )
  Rdra1962 | Aug 1, 2018 |
McKay continues to make use of a writing style – a story interspersed with letters, newspaper clippings and journal entries – that worked in The Birth House, McKay’s debut novel. She mixes things up a bit this time with a change in venue. Instead of an isolated community, McKay transports the reader to the mean streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side around the Bowery circa 1871. Basically, the 1870s was one very grim time period to live in with its hopeless state of female employment, so not surprising that the risky prostitution trade like Miss Everett’s “Infant School” - a brothel that certifies its girls are virgo intacto to gentlemen with deep pockets of cash - actually looks like a better situation to Moth than most other options available to her (like the workhouses or going to live in a charity boarding house).

The curious sidebars, illustrations, old apothecary ads, excerpts from newspapers and Dr. Sadie Frost’s observations (which are based upon the author’s own great-great-great grandmother’s experiences as one of the first female physicians) go a long way to make this a fascinating historical fiction read for this reader. I should point out that McKay’s stories are more about immersion into a time period, focusing attention on certain themes/issues than any type of plot-driven story. That being said, Moth flits between naïve innocence one would expect from a child of 12-years and “wisdom beyond her years” slum life has given her making her at times a rather conflicted character. Also, as good as McKay is at giving me a fascinating page-turning read, her endings tend to come across as a little too abrupt.

Overall, an interesting read set in post Civil War New York City with 19th century themes such as poverty, prostitution, gender roles, and sexuality. ( )
  lkernagh | Apr 9, 2018 |
I thought this was going to be uber-depressing a la Lullabies for Little Criminals, but once the last 2/3 of the book kicks into gear (Moth befriends a lady doctor and sideshow freaks!) it gets much less ooky.

Kind of like a 19th century love letter to Planned Parenthood. ( )
  annhepburn | Mar 4, 2018 |
Beautifully written, appealing characters, interesting historically, good storyline. And very little sexual content, a plus. :-) ( )
  Siubhan | Feb 28, 2018 |
Ami McKay writes with storytelling ease of a young girl named “Moth” by a legendary pear tree on the crossroads of Pear Tree corner. As imaginative as this sounds, and though the novel is filled with a sort of Cirque du Soleil creativity in the trappings of the book’s characters from their costumes to their well-manufactured displays of propriety—the book is anything, but happy.

It tells of the polarity between decadence and poverty in the streets of New York in 1871, the age of mysterious outbreaks of disease that would come to be known later as typhoid, diphtheria, smallpox, tuberculosis, gonnorrhea, and syphilis.

It is, in simple terms, a story of survival, of not only the city’s poverty and disease, but the ramifications of its poor choices, or lack thereof, which leads or continues the culture’s socially accepted, yet somewhat masked moral decline.

Poor and impoverished families sell their young daughters away into prostitution where they are not only valued for their youth, their potential profitable income, but also for their “certified” virginity and innocence. But the value tied to a girl’s virginity is not entirely driven by a desire toward her innocence and purity, but rather driven by a rumoured myth of a virgin cure – the belief that a man with disease could cure himself by deflowering a virgin, of which the novel is aptly titled.

The tale is of a 12 year old girl named Ada “Moth” Fenwick who is left behind by her “gypsy” mother in poverty by a man whose wandering eye and lustful appetite found a much younger companion by the name of Katie Adams. Though this part in the plot is small, it is the catalyst that propels Moth into an enslaved life of first: servitude, then, and then prostitution. It can also be said that her father’s actions were, but a mere microcosm of the male psyche at large in the tenements of lower Manhattan in 1871; a foreshadowing of men’s dismissive view of marriage and their wives.

What is left is an array of women who react to their station in life, their personal ambitions for survival in prosperity, security, and if fitting, love.

Ada’s mother, a gypsy fortuneteller is frugal with her love toward her daughter, perhaps as a result of the severity of her abandonment by her husband and the severity of being poor with a child to raise on her own, single-handedly. It would be better to think she did this as an effort to strengthen Ada in tactics of survival, but it’s too hopeful and assumption. As a reader, I suspect her coolness toward her daughter is due to the hardship of their impoverished life together and her personal heartache.

As ambition goes, Ada’s mother maximizes her exotic origin by exaggerating her prophetic, supernatural abilities and by doing so, increases whatever profit she is able to make. An interesting trait about Ada’s gypsy mother is her partiality to collecting charred trinkets from the wreckage of house fires. It is as if, perhaps, her willingness to settle for charred, token items, speaks to her submission finally to the horror of her environment, her poverty, and her inability to overcome it.

Miss Emma Everett, the madam in charge of raising young girls in prostitution on “No. 73 East Houston Street,” is surprisingly fair to the girls, understanding always their crucial role in her tenacious ambition toward financial success. She is clear about her expectations, preying in on their youth, their beauty, and their willingness to succeed in raising their status from “almost whore” to “whore” in order to avoid a life on the streets. Miss Emma is able to tantalize the girls with material extravagance and special treatment when she feels a girl is able to seduce clients into securing her and her household a fortune. She is neither cruel to the girls in the house, but strict in their tutelage in beauty and etiquette. They are, to her, neither daughters, nor friends, but commodities to her social status and her business. Miss Emma reflects the materialistic woman who will erase moral boundaries in order to survive and flourish amongst her peers, perpetuating men’s stereotypes of girls and women and satisfying their sexual appetites while filling her purse.

Mrs. Wentworth, though endowed with a high station and riches, is inflicted with sorrow, anguish, and rage, desiring power and vengeance on the youth, beauty, and innocent victims who beguile and surpass her in arousing desire. The plot of Mrs. Wentworth’s cruelty was so difficult to read, I had to, during numerous times in my reading, put the book down. It is enough to say, Mrs. Wentworth’s worst enemy is herself in her own torment that she feels compelled as a coping mechanism or an act of survival to inflict the same kind of torment on others. Though she is cruel, she is, in fact, not the most degenerate of the characters in the book.

Though Dr. Sadie is a woman of heritage and rich origin, her family also ostracizes her because of her choice in pursuing an education and a career that equals that of a man’s (at that time), rather than marriage. She boards and works in the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, provides medical care for the young girls who live on East Houston Street, and pays regular visits to those who too ill to leave their homes for medical care. Dr. Sadie, the polar opposite of Miss Emma Everett in moral attitude, is similar to her in that she works within the rules of a social system to further her goals, namely, to care for those who are in need. Her financial compensation is most likely small compared to her previous lifestyle, but provides an outlet where she feels she is doing some good especially toward the young victims that fall prey to the “virgin cure” mythology.

Ada “Moth” Fenwick is the child at the centre of the story whose lowly station in life has left her with few choices in acts of survival amongst the streets of Manhattan. She is an embodiment of “child-woman,” young as 12 years old, innocent in the ways of sexuality, yet hardened by the harsh environment she finds herself in: from abandonment of her father; an unrequited love from her mother; cruelty and humiliation in the service of Mrs. Wentworth; manipulation by a butler whom she trusts; dishonesty in the craft of begging and stealing on the streets south of East Houston; the betrayal of friends in the competition for being the most valuable asset and commodity to Miss Emma Everett, to the eventual knowledge and misuse of her own sexuality.

The stories of these girls and women work together to showcase a hungry, desperate, and diseased New York of the 1870’s beneath the decadence of mansion and estate, dress trains, and social elitism.

“Moth” is not a butterfly, but an active mistress of the night, able to hover much like a hummingbird, above her circumstances.
( )
  ZaraD.Garcia-Alvarez | Jun 6, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
As with her first novel, McKay packs The Virgin Cure to the brim with ephemera (silk walking suits, evening toilette, tear catchers, and Circassian hair oils), local legends, and wives’ tales (the title comes from the popular belief at the time that having sex with a virgin cured illness).
 
Dickens in the brothel..Ami McKay’s first bestselling novel was a trove of period ephemera, her own narrative playing off juicy snippets from newspapers, magazine ads and herbalist lore. It was a winning formula that she continues to favour in a new novel that also shares thematic territory with The Birth House....Moth’s lot in life is undeserved and her longings universal. You’ll hope that she escapes with her dignity and her health, and you’ll want her to feel safe, have comfort and be loved. In spite of the odds stacked against her, she deserves it.
 
Moth is the central character of Ami McKay’s new novel The Virgin Cure, the long-awaited follow-up to her 2006 debut, The Birth House. It’s a powerful novel, rooted in the same elements that made The Birth House both critically lauded and a bestseller — including a vivid historical realism and compelling, well-drawn characters — but with a significantly darker approach and subject matter....One of McKay’s gifts and skills as a writer is her ability to utterly immerse the reader in her fictional world....That resignation, and those fleeting moments of care, in a world of obliviousness and pain, combine to make The Virgin Cure a powerful, affecting novel.
 
Fans of McKay’s bestselling novel The Birth House are going to love The Virgin Cure, her second story about an unusual girl living in a precise time and place. This time it’s 12-year-old Moth, the daughter of a heartless gypsy fortune teller, navigating the mean streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side around the Bowery in 1871—that’s before galleries, boutique hotels and a Daniel Boulud restaurant moved in....the author falls short with her heroine’s voice: Moth lacks depth, and besides her turbulent existence, there’s nothing particularly profound about her. Still, it’s difficult not to swiftly turn the pages of The Virgin Cure, if only to discover how Moth realizes her ultimate revenge fantasy.
 
The Virgin Cure, which tells the story of Moth, a young girl who grows up in severe poverty in 19th century New York. Readers won’t soon forget Moth, who is sold by her mother into life as a lady’s maid at the age of 12....This is a lovely novel, written in a style that is both clean and subtle. McKay’s voices are true; her characters sympathetic. Although Moth’s story is not easy or painless, I’m certain readers will take to The Virgin Cure just as they did The Birth House.

 
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Epigraph
Recall ages - One age is but a part-ages are but a part;
Recall the angers, bickerings,delusions,superstitions of the idea of caste
Recall the the bloody cruelties and crimes.

Anticipate the best women;
I say an unnumbered new race of hardy and well defined
women are to spread through all of These States
I say a girl fit for These States must be free, capable, ,
dauntless, just the same as a boy.

- Walt Whitman
Shrewdness, large capital, business enterprise, are all enlisted in the lawless stimulation of this mighty instinct of sex.
- Dr Elizabeth Blackwell - founder of the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children
Dedication
For Sarah Fonda Mackintosh- doctor, mother, rebel; and for my mother, who never let me forget that I came from such stuff.
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I am Moth, a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum house mystic and the man who broke her heart.
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“I am Moth, a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart.” So begins The Virgin Cure, a novel set in the tenements of lower Manhattan in the year 1871. As a young child, Moth’s father smiled, tipped his hat and walked away from his wife and daughter forever, and Moth has never stopped imagining that one day they may be reunited – despite knowing in her heart what he chose over them. Her hard mother is barely making a living with her fortune-telling, sometimes for well-heeled clients, yet Moth is all too aware of how she really pays the rent.

Life would be so much better, Moth knows, if fortune had gone the other way – if only she’d had the luxury of a good family and some station in life. The young Moth spends her days wandering the streets of her own and better neighbourhoods, imagining what days are like for the wealthy women whose grand yet forbidding gardens she slips through when no one’s looking. Yet every night Moth must return to the disease- and grief-ridden tenements she calls home.

The summer Moth turns twelve, her mother puts a halt to her explorations by selling her boots to a local vendor, convinced that Moth was planning to run away. Wanting to make the most of her every asset, she also sells Moth to a wealthy woman as a servant, with no intention of ever seeing her again.

These betrayals lead Moth to the wild, murky world of the Bowery, filled with house-thieves, pickpockets, beggars, sideshow freaks and prostitutes, but also a locale frequented by New York’s social elite. Their patronage supports the shadowy undersphere, where businesses can flourish if they truly understand the importance of wealth and social standing – and of keeping secrets. In that world Moth meets Miss Everett, the owner of a brothel simply known as an “infant school.” There Moth finds the orderly solace she has always wanted, and begins to imagine herself embarking upon a new path.

Yet salvation does not come without its price: Miss Everett caters to gentlemen who pay dearly for companions who are “willing and clean,” and the most desirable of them all are young virgins like Moth. That’s not the worst of the situation, though. In a time and place where mysterious illnesses ravage those who haven’t been cautious, no matter their social station, diseased men yearn for a “virgin cure” – thinking that deflowering a “fresh maid” can heal the incurable and tainted.

Through the friendship of Dr. Sadie, a female physician who works to help young women like her, Moth learns to question and observe the world around her. Moth’s new friends are falling prey to fates both expected and forced upon them, yet she knows the law will not protect her, and that polite society ignores her. Still she dreams of answering to no one but herself. There’s a high price for such independence, though, and no one knows that better than a girl from Chrystie Street.
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In 19th century New York, a destitute women sends her 12-year-old daughter, Moth, to become a live-in servant of a wealthy woman. To escape her employer's cruelty, Moth flees to the streets and finds herself in the Bowery, a place filled with thieves, beggars and pickpockets. Her only escape from this desperate situation may be to find shelter in a nearby brothel.… (more)

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