If there is a place to put writing, Jonathan Messinger will probably find it. The credits page of his new short story collection, Hiding Out, includes a 50-word story—"It Feels As Though It Ran a Little Long, Maybe by 5 Words." The about-the-author section offers another one. And the full catalog listing for Hiding Out, on the very last page of the book, is yet another story, in six-point font—a story that doesn't appear in Hiding Out proper.
That isn't all. The entrepreneurial Messinger founded The Dollar Store Show, the hugely popular monthly literary and comedy show at the Hideout Saloon in Chicago. He used to edit a Web magazine that published creative nonfiction about Chicago's rapid transit. He's now the books editor for Time Out Chicago and the co-publisher of featherproof books, a small, young, indie publisher—which published Hiding Out.
The book is an unusual, nearly pocket-sized shape, and adorned with cartoon-like illustrations by Rob Funderburk: Hiding Out isn't just a volume of stories (or "decoys," as Messinger calls them), it aspires to be an objet d'art in itself. As such, its contents function partially as elements of a collage or a piñata: colorful, appealing and—as featherproof's name suggests—lightweight. This is not to say that these stories are insubstantial, but that they, nearly all anchored in loneliness and isolation, are driven, almost paradoxically, by an unshakable, garrulous good humor and optimism. It's as if Messinger is gazing down into the tarn of loneliness while skating nimbly on its surface, whistling and talking to anyone willing to listen.
Jonathan Messinger appears at Internationalist Books, 405 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, on Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 7 p.m. Call 942-1740 or visit www.internationalistbooks.org.