Saturday, May 12, 2012

Weekend Reading

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

Actually I started this before the weekend, but I'll count it as a weekend read since I finished it today.  The narrator is a twelve year old destitute child, Moth, who lives in Manhattan in the 1870s.  Her father abandoned her and her gypsy mother when she was a toddler.  Her mother scrapes together a living telling fortunes, selling her meagre goods and trading herself for rent.  She shows little affection for her daughter and drowns her sorrows in drink.  When Moth is 12 she sells her to a cruel woman as a lady's maid and then disappears herself.  With the help of a kind, though self interested, butler she escapes.  To avoid a life of begging for pennies on the street she joins a brothel which specializes in selling virgins to men willing to pay a suitable price.  At first she's taken in by the soft bed, regular meals and false friendship of the madam and the other girls.  During her training period she's happy and taken under the wing of a woman doctor who looks out for the girls.  But soon she sees the cruelty of the other girls, the dangers of rape and syphilis (including the myth of the "Virgin Cure" - the belief sex with a virgin could cure a man of syphilis) and the horror of her first experience with a man - though through this experience she does exact a measure of revenge against the cruel woman who'd employed her as a maid.  In the end she turns to the doctor for redemption.

The author based this story on her great-great grandmother who was one of the first graduates of the Women's Medical College of the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children.  Originally intending to write the novel from the doctor's perspective, she claims that the voice of Moth came to her as she wandered the streets of the Lower East Side.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

A short rather unusual book but intriguing enough to read in an afternoon.  It's written from the perspective of a divorced man in his 60s looking back on his high school friends and his first college girlfriend.  He feels used by and inferior to the girl and her brother and father though has a strange bond with her mother in their only meeting.  After they break up the girl hooks up with one of his high school gang with unfortunate results that the narrator only pieces together in his old age.  I won't give away the ending that completely surprised me but it's worth the read to piece it all together even though at times the writing gets too philosophical and long winded for my taste.

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