The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

the virgin cure ami mckayI read Ami McKay's second novel, The Virgin Cure, slowly. Deliberately. I did what I could to stretch it out and not read it in one big gasp. I've been waiting for it for a long time and darn it, I was going to enjoy it. I read it slowly because I didn't want it to end.

I need to add a bit of history. What feels like many years ago, but was actually about 5 years ago, I sat in my teeny Toronto apartment working and listening to CBC Radio. I have no idea what show it was -- something that was on regularly during the day. This woman was being interviewed about her book. It was a book about a woman who becomes a midwife in rural Eastern Canada in the early 20th century and the woman was inspired by the book because after moving to Eastern Canada she discovered that the house her family bought has belonged to the local midwife. The woman was Ami. Both the book and her house were The Birth House.

I knew I wanted it but I didn't buy it. I was on a "no book buying" jag. (I do those from time to time...) I was attempting to go a month without purchasing any books (I rarely succeed). I'd see online and sigh before moving on to the next website. I'd see it in stores and give the cover a little pat and tell it was soon coming home with me but not quite yet.

Then I had a oral surgery consultation in a local hospital and well, I'm absolutely terrified of the dentist so imagine me dealing with an oral surgeon. The consultation went as well as consultations go but I knew that I was looking at some serious, though common, dental work and the thought of it made me queasy and want to sit down on a chair with my head between my legs. Instead I wandered into the hospital bookstore and bought The Birth House. It was my first review for as a Contributing Editor in 2006 so it's kind of special to me.

I've met Ami. I've attended events with her, bumped into her at others and had lunch with her (brave on her part as I actually had no voice... or maybe that makes her smart) and I poke her when her publisher doesn't have her touring in my city (*ahem*). I have, barely, refrained, for the last five years asking when the next darned book was coming out. I figured if I was impatient to have it in my hands she was equally impatient to finish writing it and the last thing she needed was someone like me poking her to find out when it was done. But finally there was a title - The Virgin Cure. Then a release date. (Then possibly a second, different, release date if memory serves correct.) Then some information about what it was about. Then a cover. And then Ami posted a picture of the ARC on her Facebook page and I begged her publisher, to please, please send me a copy. (Thank you Random House/Knopf!)

About a month ago it arrived. I squeed, just a little bit, and then promptly did not start reading it. I had a pile of work and books that I needed to read. On the train to Blissdom Canada I started reading it. As I mentioned, I read it slowly because I wanted to stretch it out. I could have finished it on the train back but I had made a decision. I was going to take The Virgin Cure, and Moth, home to New York City when I went to BlogHer Writers. I did, though we didn't quite make it into Moth's NYC.

Moth is a girl from Chrystie street. Her mother is a slum-house mystic. Her father, the man who broke her mother's heart, is just gone. Every day is a different struggle for survival.

When Moth is twelve her mother sells her to a wealthy woman and then disappears. Moth is to be a servant. Her mother is hoping, we believe (or maybe hope?), for Moth to have a better life -- one off the streets. Unfortunately for Moth it doesn't work out that way. Surrounded by wealth and living in a mansion as the woman's lady's maid she is met with cruelty and abuse.

Moth escapes and finds herself begging in the streets when she meets a pretty girl -- an "almost whore." The girl offers Moth a chance to get off the streets, to put a roof over her head and to an extent, a career, at Miss Everett's. Moth is young and untouched by a man and there are men who will play a high premium for such a girl. They are the men that seek the Virgin Cure -- the belief that bedding a virgin will cleanse them of their disease before they descend into madness.

Moth's aided by Dr. Sadie, a female physician in a time when they really were rarities. She's introduced to Dr. Sadie when she arrives at Miss Everett's. We see Dr. Sadie's frustration with the situation that Moth and the other girls are in. She knows she can't rescue them but she still tries. Dr. Sadie's character was inspired by McKay's own relation.

Moth... is a singular child. It's kind of hard to think of her as a child but she's young, so young, when we meet her. She's wise beyond her years and has a better understanding of most situations than many adults would. She's seen more. She knows more. She knows that she can barter a little bit more food for a glimpse of her ankles. She knows that a sweet smile and an embarrassed blush might be an extra ladle of soup. She's realistic about her choices and the fact that none of them are good.

"Sometimes, for a moment, everything is just as you need it to be. The memories of such moments live in the heart, waiting for the time you need to think on them, if only to remind yourself that for at short while, everything has been fine, and might be so again."

The writing... it was what I hoped it would be. Moth's voice is strong and I loved the addition of Dr. Sadie's notes, marginalia really, to Moth's story. McKay pulled me into Moth's NYC and some day next year on one of my planned NYC trips (maybe BEA), I intend to visit Moth's world. I feel as though I already know it.