Cringe-lit. It has roots in the work of David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, and Jonathan Ames, as well as reality TV, the Mortified tell-all phenomenon, and Found magazine. It's a genre that gleefully reveals the most embarrassing aspects of life, not necessarily to make readers recoil in horror, but to unabashedly show that we all do terrible things, intentional or not. This isn't to say that the writing is cringe-inducing in terms of quality; the best writers of the style win you over with an underdog sentiment made palatable by their strong literary chops. Some could even be called warm and fuzzy. If actor Michael Cera were a book, he'd be cringe-lit.
It would be wrong, however, to try and squeeze Jonathan Messinger's large talents into this small sub-genre without talking about his other gifts. Sure, there are some classic cringe-lit moments in here (a boy tries to kiss his older brother's girlfriend; one dude dresses up like a robot to spy on his ex), but Messinger is wildly good at switching moods. His style in the 15 stories that make up Hiding Out doesn't change much, but each story accomplishes a lingering pang that makes them all feel like individual showcases.
The opener, "Captain Tomorrow," is about a 13-year-old videogame junkie whose sister shows him a hokey Richard Kern-style snuff film. Messinger (whose day job is being the books editor at Time Out Chicago) opens the story with the boy shoplifting candy bars and TV Guide—a display of juvenile malaise—and just seven pages later is able to dangle some adult-style gloom in our grill.
In "Christmas Spirit," Messinger crafts a laugh-out-loud story about a cranky androgynous angel who visits and steals from a single father. Even here, he is able to twist the tone of the story into an uneasy sadness by the end. The following story, "Big Doug Rides Torch," about a man having an affair with his neighbor's wife, is also a highlight, with the narrator more concerned about hypothetically outrunning a cheetah on his new moped than facing real issues in his life.
Messinger's book is full of mishaps and mishaps waiting to happen, but he somehow transforms the cringes into familiar sparks that shine and resonate.