In Claire Cameron's new novel, an archaeologist makes a remarkable find: the skeletal bones of a Neanderthal and a human, facing one another. The story toggles between the driven Rosamund and her testy dealings with museum officials who value spectacle over science, and Girl, a muscular Neanderthal hunter with a shock of red hair. Both are pregnant.
Cameron, a Canadian writer, is at her best when recreating the lush, savage world of 40,000 years ago. Girl sleeps inside a bison-hide hut in a warm tangle of tribe, which includes an odd foundling, Runt. Their days are spent outwitting prey while they avoid becoming dinner themselves, and in rituals passed down through millennium. But Girl is grappling with unforeseen changes. Sure, the brown bear families showed up at the annual fish run where swift rivers meet, though where is everyone else?
While you may wonder about the accuracy of some details (a heat-seeking gum patch...), there is no question that humans and Neanderthals co-existed, mingled and even interbred. Perhaps you may even be among those who have up to 4% Neanderthal DNA. The book ends rather abruptly. Having gotten to know this brave and kind being, we are left simply to wish Girl safe travel to journey's end.