Jean M(arie) Auel Grover Sales - Essay

Grover Sales

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"The Valley of Horses," Jean M. Auel's sequel to her blockbuster novel "The Clan of the Cave Bear" set in ice age Ukraine, 30,000 BC, is a well-researched children's story fleshed out with steamy primordial sex, women's lib, soap opera plots and "Me, Tarzan—you, Jane" dialogue.

One must admire the painstaking anthropological research Auel has poured into her proposed trilogy. Even readers turned off by the gimmicky form this novel assumes may find fascination in the technique of human survival in the late Pleistocene Epoch….

[Ayla's] story is entwined with the wanderings of Jondalar, 6-foot-6 superstud making the long trek down the Danube to the Black Sea. Early on, the author telegraphs their cataclysmic coupling, and readers who have stuck it out this far are rewarded with epic copulations.

There may be the sound idea of a novel in all this, but Auel's odd notions of primitive speech are a continual nuisance….

[And] Auel's narrative style seems weirdly at variance with the era she's describing. When Ayla finds she can start fire with flint, "That was the serendipity." Again, when Ayla's cave becomes fetid with the stink of rotting corpses, "She wanted a breath of air untainted by malodorous emanations." This goes on for 500 pages; the pages are large and the type small.

Grover Sales, "Primordial Passions of Pleistocene Times: The Flesh Is Willing, But the Diction Is Weak," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 12, 1982, p. 3.