cover image The Last Neanderthal

The Last Neanderthal

Claire Cameron. Little, Brown, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-316-31448-0

Forty millennia separate the two female protagonists of this impressively executed novel from the author of The Bear. In the distant past, a Neanderthal named Girl struggles to define her role in a depleted family that includes her aged mother, Big Mother; her brother, Him; and Runt, a foundling. Now of childbearing age, Girl is secretly impregnated by Him and soon thereafter cast out by Big Mother, and though the family is eventually reunited, a failed hunt leaves several of them dead. Girl is left to care for Runt while leading them to “the meeting place,” where they’ll hopefully join a new family. Interspersed with Girl’s story are flash-forwards to Rose, the pregnant anthropologist who unearths Girl’s bones positioned intimately beside those of a human. The births of both Rose and Girl’s children, past and present, threaten to destroy the lives of the respective mothers, as Rose is forced to leave the dig site, while Girl must deliver the baby alone in a snowstorm. The contrasting and similar reactions to motherhood are emblematic of the book’s greatest strength—its ability to collapse time and space to draw together seemingly dissimilar species: ancestors and successors, writer and reader. Agent: Denise Bukowski, the Bukowski Agency. (Apr.)