August 4, 2013
The Virgin Cure - Ami McKay
Everyone out there seems to have read Ami McKay's debut novel, The Birth House, but I somehow missed it. I certainly have seen copies in the bookstore, but never got around to picking up a copy. This was possibly due to it's release date (February 2006), right in the middle of my 3-year cultural gap when I was living overseas and out of touch with current books and movies and music.
Anyways, after all of the hype (good and bad) about The Birth House, I decided to give her second novel, The Virgin Cure a try. I have to say that I was underwhelmed.
It is the story of Moth, a girl trying to get by after being abandoned by her mother in the seedier side of New York City in the late 1800s. She eventually lands in a "house of ill repute", with a Madam who makes a small fortune by selling the virginity of young girls to the highest bidder. The Madam is especially careful though to avoid customers looking for The Virgin Cure - a belief that having sex with a virgin would cure syphilis.
I wasn't particularly drawn to any of the characters. For me to get into a book, I generally have to be rooting for at least one of the characters, and I didn't find anyone to cheer on in this book. Probably the character that was the most sympathetic to me was Dr. Sadie, a Lady Doctor whose job included looking after the girls in the brothel. However even she seemed a bit to pedantic - she was so sure that she knew the best way for everything. Moth, the main character, was a bit to cold and calculating to be particularly endearing. And all of the rest of the characters seemed to come and go without making a very big impression on this reader.
I was especially disappointed with the author's note at the end where she talks about the origins of this book and she spends quite some time talking about syphilis and the virgin cure. But not once does she mention that the belief in a virgin cure is still alive today, but that the disease that it is supposed to cure is AIDS. In my time in Tanzania, there were many girls (some very very young girls) admitted to the hospital after being raped (often by a relative) in an attempt to cure AIDS. And yet the author talks about the virgin cure as if it is a thing of the past, not as a very real and present thing in the world today. And so the final pages of the book left a bad taste in my mouth - possibly the reason why it has taken me almost a month to write this.
Anyways, I did not enjoy this book, and I probably won't pick up any of Ami McKay's other books in the future. I apologize to her multitude of fans out there.