I loved The Birth House and if you read it, then I know you did too. It was one of Heather’s Picks of the decade, shortlisted for the CBC’s Canada Reads competition and was Number One on Canada’s bestseller lists. It was compulsively readable, perfectly Canadian and totally timeless.
I was so anticipating Ami McKay’s next effort, The Virgin Cure.
I have to say, I was disappointed. I was never completely invested in Moth or the time or the story. The idea of the Virgin Cure (that having sex with a virgin would cure a man of syphilis) was touched on but never became what I assumed would be the crux of the story. It was just kind of a description of a brutal time and place for a young girl.
The beginning felt very A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to me (for the record, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my favourite books), just in terms of the New York slums and the reality of poverty at the time and how Moth’s mom does whatever she needs to do in order to get the money together for rent. But while Francie’s mom would never actually sell her children, Moth’s mother has no qualms about selling her daughter, into what was basically white slavery, to a woman with a heavy purse.
After Moth gets abused at the hands of her mistress, she escapes and is living on the street when she is saved by a girl in a fancy dress and brought to a house that turns out to be a kind of brothel, specializing in training young girls how to behave around men and then selling their virginity to the highest bidder.
Sometimes you just don’t feel it. I didn’t connect. There was a bit of a circus feel to it and I do not care for the circus. I didn’t like Water for Elephants either and I’m sure that that was down to the circus.
A lot of the book was very sad – the women dying of syphilis, the reminder that aside from marrying well there weren’t a whole lot of options open to women, how Moth’s mother sells her and then just disappears. But I didn’t feel like any of this was particularly new or surprising. I’ve read these things before.
Moth’s mother is supposed to be a Gypsy, a fortune teller and I guess one of the things that is supposed to make her story stand out is that he has all kinds of rituals that she’s picked up from her mom that she uses to get what she thinks she wants. In this new life of hers, Moth has to reconcile the things that her mother always told her (like not to sit in a bathtub) with the way things are in her new life, the necessity of passing herself off as the same as the other girls.
There’s a bit of a plot twist near the end I suppose, but by then I’d long forgotten the origins of it and it didn’t shock or surprise me, it just happened.
I wanted to love this book, I waited a long time for this book. But I’m sad to say that I just didn’t connect.
Sometimes that happens (kind of a lot this year it seems eh?).