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Like a moth to light, The Virgin Cure drew me in

Book Review
The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay
Knopf Canada, 368 pages, $32

Like the large bar of dark chocolate I intended to mete out a piece at a time but instead polished off in two days, I planned to read Ami McKay's new book, The Virgin Cure, slowly. Despite my best efforts, I finished it within a week and am left awed and yet still hungry. I hope blogging and talking about it with fellow readers bring me the satiety I seek.

The Virgin Cure is the Dickensian-style story of Moth, a 12-year old girl living on Manhattan's rat-ridden Chrystie Street in 1874. To say Moth's is a hard scrabble life is an understatement. Abandoned by Moth's father, Moth's mother supports the family as a psychic, but she shows a shocking lack of foresight for one who purports to see the future. Deciding Moth is old enough to start supporting her, she kicks Moth out of their home, into a situation even more rife with abuse than the one Moth is leaving.

Moth is merchandise, bought and sold several times in the story. Poor people are depicted throughout the book as inconvenient and an easy target for upper classes that choose to criticize rather than help them. The complete lack of sympathy and social services makes for an interesting, if upsetting, anthropology lesson. (Much of the historical context is provided through explanatory notes, newspaper excerpts and ads that are included in the margins of the book. While fascinating, I admit I found they distracted from the narrative.)

The first person to show Moth real tenderness is Dr. Sadie, a kindly physician she befriends. I learned at the book launch that McKay modeled Dr. Sadie on her own great-great-grandmother, who worked treating destitute children and safeguarding "fresh maids" against the virgin cure. (Be sure to read the epilogue for more on this.)

Seeing McKay read from the book and talk about her personal connection to the story deepened my appreciation and respect for her as a person and author. I feel so grateful to this fellow Nova Scotia after reading The Birth House and now The Virgin Cure for choosing such important and compelling subject matter when sharing her abundant story-telling talents with us.

Lastly, while reading The Virgin Cure, iTunes was shuffling through my 2,000-song library and played Hawksley Workman's song A Moth is Not a Butterfly. Coincidence perhaps, but the lyrics help explain why Moth is the perfect name for McKay's protagonist. Two of Workman's stanzas for me, capture the bleak yet hopeful plight of this tenacious insect.

A moth is not a butterfly
And I know why, I know why
It kind of makes you want to cry
That a moth is not a butterfly

Bus some are happy in the bluest sky
And others search in the dark of night
And sadness is a silent right

A moth is not a butterfly

If you've read The Virgin Cure, or plan to, please share your thoughts in the comments section. My experience with it has been too brief thus far, and I'd love some dialogue.

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  • Response
    I would be very thankful if you continue with quality what you are serving right now with your blog...I really enjoyed it...and i really appreciate to you for this....its always pleasure to read so....Thanks for sharing!!!

Reader Comments (2)

I was looking for a new book to read. This looks interesting. Thanks for posting the review.

November 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVivian Kendricks

I hope you enjoy The Virgin Cure, Vivian (and I'm quite confident you will). Please share your comments once you've read it.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlison

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