Some interesting and very odd characters (including a few scientists and researchers) inhabit the eleven short stories in this collection. In "Concerning Mold Upon the Skin, Etc.," Anton van Leeuwenhoek creates his first microscope and becomes so absorbed by the invisible worlds revealed to him that he neglects his own family. "Nowhere" is the tale of an old anatomy professor who aspires to spice up the curriculum by obtaining a corpse for his students to study. "Tumbling" recounts the difficult life of a young woman understandably haunted by the possibility that she may inherit Huntington’s chorea from her father and her inspired liberation of over one thousand laboratory mice.

In "Chloroform Jags," a professional midwife self-experiments with chloroform "not to escape time but to dissolve time." Other stories describe the execution of an elephant; the murder of a physician who happens to be an important figure in the French Revolution; a woman with a talent for insomnia who has not slept for six months; a psychoanalyst and his patient; an eighteenth century blind beekeeper; and Dorothea Dix, an early advocate for the humane treatment of the mentally ill.


The author of Various Antidotes is clearly interested in the history of science and medicine. Her fictional as well as historical characters share many common attributes, including an obsession with knowledge and a desire to discern the genuine nature of life. Some of these individuals exhibit a curiosity, perseverance, and passion for discovery that border on recklessness and even madness. The pursuit of knowledge can be dangerous.

These stories propose that all living things are victims of change yet remain connected to one another. Apparently the main nutrients of the human spirit (such as warmth and freedom) provide the only reliable antidote for the suffering and suspense of everyday life. Various Antidotes (like the novel, The Giant, O’Brien, by Hilary Mantel--see this database) illustrates the peril associated with an obsession for research and information.


Henry Holt

Place Published

New York

Page Count