The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay
Moth’s mother is a gypsy living in the slums of New York City. There might have been more money for food and shoes, but Moth’s mother must have her elixir from the drug store. The elixir doesn’t particularly do anything, but Moth knows her mother couldn’t function without it.
During the times in which Moth tries to imagine a world besides the one she knows, she plans to run away when she is thirteen, but her mother beats her to it by selling her as a servant to a wealthy woman. Things are different. Moth has a place to sleep. It’s warm. She has food. She has shoes and she has clothes. Not all is well, despite what seems like a tremendous improvement in her life. The woman she serves, Mrs. Wentworth, is a cruel and abusive person. The manservant of the house conspires with Moth to get her away.
Moth makes a little money in the process, but when she returns back to her home, she finds someone else living there in place of her mother. An old woman down the street cannot tell Moth where her mother has gone but promises to help Moth as best as she can. Some nights, Moth sleeps on the roof. Sometimes, she begs on the streets. One day, a young woman approaches her and offers her a place in a house.
The house isn’t a brothel, per se, but the place is a house where men pay to have sex with young women. The difference in this house and others like it are that this house specializes in the sale of virginity. All of the young women brought into the house are educated and dressed well. Men with lots of money part with a lot of it to take the virginities of girls they don’t even know. Their wives might even condone it as virgins do not have the terrible diseases that the women of normal houses of ill-repute would have.
Moth is dressed well and she is educated. Along the way, she makes friends with a lady doctor. The doctor, Dr. Sadie, tries to get Moth out of her situation more than once, but Moth knows what she must do. After Moth goes through with what she has planned, she cannot face the world anymore. There is too much cruelty and too much degradation. There has to be something else Moth can do besides sell her body, at least in that way.
What I liked
I do like that Moth did eventually rise up out of what she was born into. She pulled herself up from the muck and developed some sort of idea of her worth instead of following down the tragic path she might have otherwise found herself.
What I didn’t like
Children like Moth have always gone homeless across the world and people have always tried to take advantage of them. Moth’s story is one that makes a person lose a little faith in humanity. What kind of world do we live in where twelve-year-olds have their virginity sold to the highest bidder? Surely, surely, that sort of thing doesn’t happen today? Well, it does. Moth’s story, although fiction, is just another drop in an ocean of stories about children being trafficked in the sex trade. While this is all depressing, stories like this one are reminders that some of the same bad things that happen today happened yesterday. We’re not any worse off as a society, really, but it doesn’t seem we’ve gotten any better. Maybe we can improve.
The title of the book refers to a terrible practice. Back in the day, people looked at syphilis the same way we look at AIDS/HIV today. It’s not the end of the world if you get it, but there are going to be a lot of life experiences closed off to you if you contact the disease in question. We’re making some very promising progress in the treatment of HIV/AIDS today so it’s not the same sentence that it used to be. During the time this book was set in, syphilis was bad. There wasn’t a cure. Treatments involved mercury, a toxic metal. People’s noses fell off. They went crazy. They died alone in asylums or on the streets. Syphilis was an STD that could destroy everything about a person, not just make their crotch itch every so often. It was bad.
Somewhere along the way, someone got the bright idea that having sex with a virgin might cure the disease. This is a stupid idea, first of all, but I guess the reasoning was that they acquired the disease from someone who was not a virgin, so maybe, just maybe, a virgin just might be the trick. Luckily, Moth, in our book is not subject to this, but it’s something the proprietor of her establishment has to keep an eye out for.
These days, a person can still catch syphilis as a sexually transmitted disease, but it’s highly treatable. The worst thing a person can get today through sex is HIV, well, maybe Ebola since there is some consensus that it can be sexually transmitted, even months after a person has recovered.
If this book isn’t a lesson in using protection, I don’t know what is.
When life gives you lemons–become a beggar? Sell your hair? Sell your virginity? Put beer in your hair and pretend you’re from some exotic land? Yeah, that last one sounds right.
Do you think we often fall into the trap of thinking that our predecessors were somehow more morally upright than we are today?
If you had found yourself in Moth’s position, what do you think you would do?