Hiding Out: By Jonathan Messinger, 195 pgs. By Todd Taylor

Sep 26, 2007

Modern life does it best to compartmentalize each one of us into our own little boxes. The result, in America for sure, is a breakdown of flesh-to-flesh communities. In fact, many people find themselves in boxes of their own making (mental, job-related, relationship-related, financially based), and Jonathan Messinger examines those boxes in a collection of fifteen funny, wonderfully strange, and tender short stories. Messinger’s a master craftsman who bridges over many gaps that lesser writers fall into.

It’s been said that what we own truly owns us. It’s also asserted that we’re all influenced by what we come in contact with. Objects play heavily in Hiding Out: a soccer ball that causes an aneurysm, dead birds, a glowing, winged refrigerator magnet that’s really fucking with a dude, a Harley Davidson, a wrought-iron fence that challenges an over-sized head... the list goes on. Almost every story gravitates around an object which “lives” in the stories as much as the human one. In Messinger’s hands, this subtle recasting isn’t merely a writing exercise, but a slightly different way to approach story telling.

Human and object merge in “True Hero.” A man is elaborately dressed as a robot for Halloween. The self-made costume is his shield and self-imposed invisibility. He is unrecognizable to the party guests, refuses to say his name, and mostly keeps to himself. We come to understand that he’s stalking an ex-girlfriend. Before he can offer her a poem, which is rolled up tightly in a specially made box installed over his heart in the robot disguise, he’s identified and gets forcefully ejected from the party. And although the guy’s creepy, the way Messinger tells the story, it’s more about the loser and pathetic moron in all of us instead of a flat-handed indictment of an emotionally unstable man.

On one hand, Messinger’s absolutely clever and witty—the book is full of skillful turns of phrase and creative situations—but the stories have a true foundation, balance, and meaningful resonance, evidenced by the fact they’re still rattling around in my brain weeks after the initial reading. On the surface—to be sure—Messinger isn’t afraid to bend wording like the stylized, curlicue’d frosting on an expensive cake, and it’s fun to read along to such a capable, confident voice. But the cleverness is never just celebrating itself in a hollow world. It never gets away from Messinger. It’s never for the sake of a cheap plot twist or an easy out. It comes across as one of many ways to express a deep compassion and love for what he’s writing.

That’s what makes Hiding Out so enjoyable: well-written stories about people hiding in plain sight, surrounded by both humans and objects, trying to get through another day. That’s something I think we can all relate to. –Todd (Featherproof Books, www.featherproof.com)