Antipodes, the fourth book and second collection of short stories by Holly Goddard Jones (The Salt Line), offers 11 riveting stories of contemporary life in the American South and Midwest. Some have pandemic settings and others are gently magical; all are true to the anxieties of modern careers, marriage and parenthood.
The narrator of the title story, a harried mother attending college classes in Kentucky, seeks to balance the opposing forces of her life and wonders what she might have to sacrifice. The ending elicits a gasp, as does the audacious inconclusiveness of "Exhaust," the tense tale of a quarreling couple driving through a blizzard. There's a Covid-19 background to "Distancing" and "Visitation," the former a piece of flash fiction about a mother who undergoes an earthy transformation, and the latter featuring a gamer who moves back in with his parents and encounters his childhood imaginary friend. Worry over environmental crises fuels "Ark," about a pyramid scheme for doomsday preppers, and "Swallows," in which a supermarket checker's simple hopefulness neutralizes a teacher's pessimistic outlook. "Machine" satirizes the academic creative writing industry. Other highlights include "Axis," in which a writer reclaims her relationship with her daughter, and "Fortress," a story about a Southern furniture designer who fears that professional success has cost him his family.
Whether thrown together in bizarre circumstances or handling moments of transition, Jones's characters feel like real people and make plausible decisions. Their dilemmas embody the paradox of disaster-laden 21st-century life: "everything seemed both precious and already lost." Fans of Nickolas Butler and Lorrie Moore will find much to admire. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck