The Virgin Cure

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The Virgin Cure

by Ami Mckay

Knopf Canada | October 25, 2011 | Hardcover

4.2667 out of 5 rating. 15 Reviews
Following in the footsteps of The Birth House, her powerful debut novel, The Virgin Cure secures Ami McKay''s place as one of our most beguiling storytellers. (Not that it has to… that is pretty much taken care of!)

"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.

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 368 Pages, 5.91 × 8.27 × 0.79 in

Published: October 25, 2011

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676979564

ISBN - 13: 9780676979565

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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– More About This Product –

The Virgin Cure

The Virgin Cure

by Ami Mckay

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 368 Pages, 5.91 × 8.27 × 0.79 in

Published: October 25, 2011

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676979564

ISBN - 13: 9780676979565

Read from the Book

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.   My father ran off when I was three years old. He emptied the rent money out of the biscuit tin and took my mother’s only piece of silver—a tarnished sugar bowl she’d found in the rubble of a Third Avenue fire.   “Don’t go . . .” Mama would call out in her sleep, begging and pulling at the blanket we shared as if it were the sleeve of my father’s coat. Lying next to her, I’d wish for morning and the hours when she’d go back to hating him. At least then her bitterness would be awake enough to keep her alive.   She never held my hand in hers or let me kiss her cheeks. If I asked to sit on her lap, she’d pout and push me away and say, “When you were a baby, I held you until I thought my arms would fall off. Oh, Child, that should be enough.”   I didn’t mind. I loved her.   I loved the way she’d tie her silk scarf around her head and then bring the ends of it to trail down her neck. I loved how she’d grin, baring her teeth all the way up to the top of her gums when she looked at herself in the mirror, how she’d toss her shawl around her shoulders and run her fingers through the black fringe of it before setting her fortuneteller’s sign in the window for the day. The sign had a pretty, long-fingered hand painted right in the middle, with
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From the Publisher

Following in the footsteps of The Birth House, her powerful debut novel, The Virgin Cure secures Ami McKay''s place as one of our most beguiling storytellers. (Not that it has to… that is pretty much taken care of!)

"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.

About the Author

Ami McKay was born and raised in rural Indiana. After an undergraduate degree in music education and graduate studies in musicology at Indiana State University, she moved to Chicago to teach music at an inner city high school for the arts. In her off hours she would write, filling notebooks and journals with short stories and ideas for novels.   In 2000, McKay moved to Scots Bay, Nova Scotia (for the love of a good Canadian man). Waiting for her residency papers to be processed gave her plenty of time to embrace the writing life. After much prodding from her partner, she started sending her writing out into the world. She began by writing thank-you notes to people she didn’t know, in an effort to start small. This, her first attempt at sharing her writing, led to an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show .   Soon McKay took bigger steps toward living the writing life. A summer workshop called “Writing for Radio” opened new doors and the opportunity to combine her love of music and sound with her passion for writing. This experience led to writing and producing documentaries for CBC Radio as well as other freelance assignments. McKay’s work has since aired on CBC Radio’s Maritime Magazine , This Morning , Outfront and The Sunday Edition . Her documentary Daughter of Family G won an Excellence in Journalism Medallion at the 2003 Atlantic Journalism Awards.   Also in 2003, an apprenticeship in the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scoti
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Editorial Reviews

“Finely crafted and remarkably researched.... While set in the past, the book informs the modern dialogue on feminism, the sex trade, and choice.” —Stacey May Fowles, The Walrus   “A worthy follow up to... The Birth House .... Character, setting, mood and plot are melded naturally to create a Dickensian world of deprivation and determination.” — Winnipeg Free Press   “A powerful novel, rooted in the same elements that made  The Birth House  both critically lauded and a bestseller.... One of McKay’s gifts and skills as a writer is her ability to utterly immerse the reader in her fictional world.... A powerful, affecting novel.” —Robert J. Wiersema, National Post   “Fans of McKay’s bestselling novel The Birth House are going to love The Virgin Cure .... McKay’s vivid prose can trigger in readers the taste of a hot bowl of oyster stew, the reek of Chrystie Street tenement houses and the sound of a taffeta skirt’s hem brushing the floor of a concert saloon.... It’s difficult not to swiftly turn the pages of The Virgin Cure . ” — Maclean’s   “A lovely novel, written in a style that is both clean and subtle. McKay’s voices are true; her characters sympathetic.... I’m certain readers will take to The Virgin Cure just as they did The Birth House .” — The Vancouver Sun “A powerful new voice in Canadian writing.&rd
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Bookclub Guide

1. Miss Everett could be seen as doing work that "saves" girls, whether from poverty or from working the streets, and she is an established member of New York society. What do you think of this argument, considering the few options for young girls like Moth?

2. What makes Moth such a survivor? Is she better or worse off without her mother?

3. The young Moth spends a lot of time fantasizing about the lives of the wealthy and how her life could have been different. Do Moth's early experiences with the Wentworths dispel some of those fantasies, or shore them up?

4. Moth's mother tells Mrs. Wentworth that Moth's name is "Miss Fenwick." Later, Moth chooses to use the name "Ada" while she's in the brothel. How do these and other names change the way Moth sees herself? How does calling herself "Ada" help her to cope?

5. How does Ami McKay use mystery and hidden secrets in The Virgin Cure? For instance, consider the various characters who live secret lives, or the importance of fortune-telling, or the role of the old Stuyvesant pear tree in the lives of early immigrants.

6. Most of the girls in Miss Everett's house believe their lives can only improve if they win the continued affection of one of her rich clients. Dr. Sadie ensures that this doesn't happen for Moth by taking her to visit Katherine Tully. Why do you think Miss Everett lets Moth go along with the doctor for the day?

7. What sorts of sacrifices does Dr. Sadie have to make in her work and her life?

8. Discuss the title of this novel and the different ways it relates to the story within its pages. Discuss the devastating myth of the "virgin cure" - not only how it took hold in the New York of this novel, but how it continues today in parts of our world.

9. What character in this novel intrigues you the most, and why?

10. Throughout the novel, McKay uses elements like Dr. Sadie's diary, margin notes and newspaper ads to convey information, whether about her characters or more generally about the New York of the day. Talk about the effect these parts of the narrative had on your reading, and your experience of Moth's world.

11. Reread the Evening Star article that appears just before the novel's epilogue - a report on the debut of the Circassian Beauty at Dink's Museum. Compare the exotic story about her past with what really happened to Moth.

12. At the end of the novel Moth lives in a home on Gramercy Park and seems to have reached her life-long goal - yet she's only nineteen. What do you think the future holds for Moth?

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