THE VALLEY OF HORSES

Remember Ayla, the Cro-Magnon orphan who was raised by a tribe of less-evolved Neanderthals in Clan of the Cave Bear (1980)? Well, now, having been cursed and exiled by new tribe leader Broud (who raped her), Ayla must abandon baby Durc and go searching for her own species ("The Others"). So off she goes to the Eurasian North—on foot and alone. . . until she reaches the Valley of the Horses, finding "a nice cave" where she can settle in for the winter. And about half of this novel (#2 in Auel's Earth's Children series) details Ayla's self-help progress in the wild: she refines her already-impressive hunting and nursing abilities; she nurtures a foal ("Whinney"), discovers a neat trick called horseback-riding, invents the travois; she accidentally learns how to make Cure via stone-sparking; she mothers a baby lion ("Baby"), she becomes the world's first female to braid her hair; and she frets about the whole matter of mating—which, despite her past experiences, she doesn't quite understand. Meanwhile, however, in alternating chapters, Ayla's obviously-destined Super-Mate is on his way. This is big blond Jondalar of the Zelandonii, who reluctantly sets out on a Journey with young, impetuous brother Thonolan: they follow the "Great Mother River" (they're from an advanced, Mother-worshipping clan that scorns the Neanderthal "flatheads" as "animals"); along the way, Jondalar helps a friendly clan with his special expertise at deflowering virgins (" 'Jondalar man, Noria woman,' he said huskily. . ."); when Thonolan is wounded by a rhino, they're taken in by the Sharamudoi, a hunting/fishing/boating tribe that Thonolan eventually marries into; but, after Thonolan's wife and child die, the brothers travel on again. Eventually, then, they reach the Valley of the Horses—where Thonolan is promptly killed by Baby (who's no baby anymore). . . while Jondalar, seriously wounded, is nursed back to health by Ayla. Will these two find mating magic? Of course. But first Jondalar must teach culturally deprived Ayla how to speak—and must overcome his revulsion when he learns that Ayla is the mother of a half-flathead. (His anti-flathead outburst brings out the Barbara Stanwyck in a now-articulate Ayla: "If I could make a choice between human and animal, I'd take the stinking hyenas!") So finally, quarrels resolved, Ayla is introduced to Jondalar-style mating, oral sex is invented ("Oh, woman! . . . How did you learn to do that!"), and Ayla gets ready to join semi-civilization. As before, Auel's dialogue is often hiloriously anachronistic, suggesting a Saturday Night Live cave-man sketch. And Ayla's sugary chats with Whinney and Baby are on the icky-juvenile level. But, though this has less tribal texture than Cave Bear, the anthropological details and the hard-core sex again make an earthy combination—so Ayla followers can probably be expected to return for more Stone Age action.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 1982

ISBN: 0553381660

Page Count: -

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1982

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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