Margaret is a sculptor whose detached and unaffectionate physician-husband has just exited their marriage. Depressed, she is in dire need of work to survive and to cover the costs of urgently needed dental work. She gladly accepts a museum commission to recreate a life-sized likeness of Lucy, the Australopithecus afarensis hominid.

The plan is to reconstruct the body using casts of the fossil bones and to depict a single moment in Lucy's past, as captured by the fossilized Laetoli footprints. Made by a hominid pair, the prehistoric footprints show how the smaller creature--Lucy--hesitated in her unknown journey 3.6 million years ago.

As Margaret reassembles her ancestor and situates her plausibly in that mysterious moment, she rediscovers her own animal body, its senses, needs, and beauty--and she begins to reassemble her life.

In the end, she appears to find love and joy with a musician whom she first encounters on a purely physical basis. Yet she is comfortable with an ambiguous future.


This beautifully written novel is a simple tale of reawakening through art and imaginative empathy for a female ancestor millions of years old. It features an engaging interplay of science with the fiction: Lucy is a real hominid discovery made by Donald Johansen in 1974; the Laetoli footprints were found by the team of Mary Leakey in 1976; and the observations of real primate scientists, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas, are crucial to the work.

Margaret's pain, her toothaches and isolation, are credible, as are the clumsy but tolerant efforts of her friends to help. In building Lucy's body, Margaret explores her own ape-like being, and catches herself mimicking the movements and vocalizations of her simian precursor even as she reclaims her full human existence.



Place Published

Harmondsworth, UK



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