I have been waiting and waiting and WAITING for The Virgin Cure to be available on my public library’s e-book lending site, Overdrive. I should have just bought the book but I’m on a tight budget this month. But boy oh boy, the wait was worth it!
The Virgin Cure is Ami McKay’s second novel. Similar to her first book, The Birth House, The Virgin Cure centres on rebellious characters on the outskirts of society. Moth is a 12-year-old girl from the slums of New York in the 1870’s. After her father abandons her and her Gypsy mother, she finds them scavenging to survive. Her mother’s fortune-telling business can just barely keep food on the table.
Things finally start to look up when her mother sells Moth to the wealthy Mrs. Wentworth to be a lady’s maid. Of course, her mother doesn’t know that Mrs. Wentworth is a nasty piece of work. After escaping Mrs. Wentworth, Moth meets a woman whose skill lies in selling young girls’ virginities for the highest possible price.
What makes the The Virgin Cure such an endearing story is the character of Moth. She dreams of a better life even in the deepest depths of poverty. She longs for her mother to love her even when her mother is neglectful at best. But who can blame her? This is all the love she’s ever had.
McKay also includes newspaper clippings and book excerpts from the time as social commentary on Moth’s decisions. You can never really be sure which excerpts are serious and which are satire but it certainly sets the tone for the time period. This was clearly a time of strict moral standards that demanded that sins and vices be quietly tucked away. I absolutely loved how the story describes the grimy slums or New York and the lush damsels in the brothel. It seems like the stricter the moral code here, the less morals anyone has.
One of Moth’s fellow “almost-whores” says it best: “Who knew heaven was a brothel.”