The Witches of New York
The year is 1880. Two hundred years after the trials in Salem, Adelaide Thom (Moth from The Virgin Cure) has left her life in the sideshow to open a tea shop with another young woman who feels it’s finally safe enough to describe herself as a witch: a former medical student and gardien de sorts (keeper of spells), Eleanor St. Clair. Together they cater to Manhattan’s high society ladies, specializing in cures, palmistry and potions–and in guarding the secrets of their clients. All is well until one bright September afternoon, when an enchanting young woman named Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment.
Beatrice soon becomes indispensable as Eleanor’s apprentice, but her new life with the witches is marred by strange occurrences. She sees things no one else can see. She hears voices no one else can hear. Objects appear out of thin air, as if gifts from the dead. Has she been touched by magic or is she simply losing her mind? Eleanor wants to tread lightly and respect the magic manifest in the girl, but Adelaide sees a business opportunity. Working with Dr. Quinn Brody, a talented alienist, she submits Beatrice to a series of tests to see if she truly can talk to spirits. Amidst the witches’ tug-of-war over what’s best for her, Beatrice disappears, leaving them to wonder whether it was by choice or by force.
As Adelaide and Eleanor begin the desperate search for Beatrice, they’re confronted by accusations and spectres from their own pasts. In a time when women were corseted, confined and committed for merely speaking their minds, were any of them safe?
“I am Moth, a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart.” So begins The Virgin Cure, a novel set in the tenements of lower Manhattan in the year 1871. As a young child, Moth’s father smiled, tipped his hat and walked away from her forever. The summer she turned twelve, her mother sold her as a servant to a wealthy woman, with no intention of ever seeing her again.
These betrayals lead Moth to the wild, murky world of the Bowery, filled with house-thieves, pickpockets, beggars, sideshow freaks and prostitutes, where eventually she meets Miss Everett, the owner of a brothel simply known as “The Infant School.” Miss Everett caters to gentlemen who pay dearly for companions who are “willing and clean,” and the most desirable of them all are young virgins like Moth.
Through the friendship of Dr. Sadie, a female physician, Moth learns to question and observe the world around her, where her new friends are falling prey to the myth of the “virgin cure”–that deflowering a “fresh maid” can heal the incurable and tainted. She knows the law will not protect her, that polite society ignores her, and still she dreams of answering to no one but herself. There’s a high price for such independence, though, and no one knows that better than a girl from Chrystie Street.
The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of Rares. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspokenAcadian midwife with a gift for healing. Dora becomes Miss B.’s apprentice, and together they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labours, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives. Filled with details as compelling as they are surprising, The Birth House is an unforgettable tale of the struggles women have faced to have control of theirown bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine.
#1 Canadian Bestseller, CBC Canada Read’s Finalist
Evergreen Award. Presented by the Ontario Librarian’s Assoc.
CBA Libris Award – Fiction Book of the Year
CBA Libris Award – Author of the Year
CBA Libris Award –Book Design of the Year (Kelly Hill)
Booksellers’ Choice Award – AIBA
Long listed –International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
In the mid-nineteenth century a man who became known as Jerome was alleged to have been found on the shores of Baie Sainte-Marie, Nova Scotia, mute and missing both legs. He lived for over forty years with a local family. Many attempts were made to locate his relatives, with hopefuls rumoured to have travelled from as far away as Alabama and Milan, but when he died in 1912 the mystery of his background was still unsolved. The story of Jerome, the Mystery Man of Sandy Cove, has turned up in various collections of folk history over the years. Now, best-selling novelist Ami McKay has written a play centred on Jerome’s appearances as a sideshow curiosity.
Like sliding panels, the knowns of Jerome’s story interchange with fantastical elements of the sideshow. A pair of conjoined twin sisters triple as childhood playmates, nosy housewives and features in Celestin Trahan’s sideshow. Jerome’s rescuers, Isobel Costa and her daughter Madeline, Father Richard, and the meddlesome Dr. Sanders likewise coexist in multiple frames of reality and dream.
“The headline from The Yarmouth Times, June 19, 1899, read ‘Jerome’ to be Exhibited,” says McKay. “Uncovering this bit of Jerome’s history haunted me from the start, taking me on a journey from the world of Acadian folklore to the world of sideshows and circus freaks. What brings one human being to abandon another? How do we measure the worth of an individual’s life? When lives intersect, who can say if we are curses or gifts to one another? Is it happenstance, fate, magic, divine intervention? As these questions stewed in my thoughts, I realized that the historical record held no answers. What had begun as an exercise in historical observation soon became a journey of unexpected twists and turns. In the end, it was the telling of his tale, with all its wild, varied facts and fictions – that brought forth the ghosts of his truth.”
Two Planks & A Passion’s world-premiere production of Jerome will run August 1–17 at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts, outside Canning, Nova Scotia, as part of the company’s “Theatre Off the Grid” outdoor series. For information about the production, visit www.twoplanks.ca.