Tag Archives: Jean M. Auel

Prehistoric Porn–>Prehistoric Yawn

7 Apr

Who, reading Clan of the Cave Bear at, say, age 11, could fail to love it? There’s a whole book to be written on the materiality of YA fiction–the sprigged lawn of Laura’s dress in These Happy Golden Years, the squishy bear meat wrapped in folded leaves of Prince Caspian, the lavender gingham of Girl of the Limberlost (does anyone read that anymore?)–and, rape aside, Clan of the Cave Bear is great YA material. Page after page of rich, thick description of the steppe plant and animal life, detailed re-enactments of flint-knapping, hide-curing, mammoth-hunting, basket-weaving: as titillating as the sex scenes were, it was definitely the other kind of porn that really got me excited.

But somewhere along the way, these books got boring. Every dozen pages or so, the narrator reminds us that Ayla was not allowed to learn to hunt; that she had an unusual upbringing; that Jondalar’s passions run too strong; that the animals obey her because they love her, or whatever. Repetition, however, can be skipped over. What cannot be skipped is the atrocious, mind-numbingly bad dialogue:

“The three women embraced, though they were all rather careful about it. Both Ayla and Janida were carrying infants, and Levela was pregnant.
“I heard you had a boy, Janida,” Ayla said.
“Yes, I named him Jeridan,” Janida said, showing her baby.
“I had a girl. Her name is Jonayla,” Ayla said. The infant was already awake from the commotion and Ayla lifted her out of the carrying blanket as she spoke, then turned to look at the baby boy. “Oh, he’s perfect. May I hold him?”
“Yes, of course, and I want to hold your daughter,” Janida said.
“Why don’t I take your baby, Ayla,” Levela said. “Then you can take Jeridan, and I’ll give … Jonayla?” she saw Ayla nod, “to Janida.”
The women shifted infants and cooed at them, while they looked them over and compared them with their own. [loc 600-605]

–Jean M. Auel, Land of Painted Caves

I don’t think I’ve ever read a more boring exchange in any book, published or unpublished, and I read a lot of boring unpublished work in various slush piles when I was doing some publishing interning, back before I decided to throw my life away and go to grad school. Did she not have an editor? Does she not re-read her own work? Did she fail to notice this passage’s painfully unnecessary information, horribly stilted name-introduction, repetitive language, and, frankly, insult to the reader’s intelligence? I took three minutes and came up with a revision:

“The three women embraced, though they were all rather careful about it. Both Ayla and Janida were carrying infants, and Levela was pregnant.
“Oh, Janida, your little boy is perfect,” Ayla said.
“His name is Jeridan,” Janida said. “Do you want to hold him?”
She handed the infant to Levela, and then took Jonayla from Ayla, who had lifted her out of the carrying wrap.
“This is Jonayla,” Ayla said, and then took Jeridan from Levela. The two women cooed over the infants, looking them over and comparing them with their own.

Look, I know it’s not Faulkner, but at least this version avoids the ridiculous discussion of how the women are going to manage to exchange babies. These are ass-kicking prehistoric ladies, people. This scene follows a lengthy description of how Ayla and her friends hunted an entire pride of cave lions. Do you really think they’re going to stand around clucking about how to exchange a couple of freaking babies? No. No, they are not. They are just going to exchange the babies and get on with skinning the cave lions or inventing the wheel, or whatever the fuck Auel is going to have superwoman Ayla do in this book.

I really do not think I can read this one. I’ve been waiting in vain for someone to put a plot summary up on the Internet so I can just find out what happens at the end and stop thinking about it. Anyone?