Given the affectionately derisive, sometimes sentimental nature of Davy Rothbart's Found magazine, an erratically published collection of discarded or lost notes, love letters, photos, greeting cards, and miscellaneous scribblings, I was surprised by the five dark stories in The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas (21 Balloons), his first work of fiction. To wit: they're pretty good. In the opener, "Lie Big," a lifelong friendship is tested by dishonesty and betrayal. "First Snow," about a prison work gang, is a distressing depiction of group cruelty. The title story, in which a troubled, road-tripping couple are stunned into reconciliation by the sight of a teenager "surfing" on a hammock in the middle of nowhere, is heartbreaking in its depiction of loss and resignation. "How I Got Here" is the writing-exercise meditation of a convict that, if true, would've been right at home in the pages of Found; the final story, "Elena," tells the tale of a young man involved in shady dealings with a Mexican strip joint who hopes in vain that love is redemption enough for his misdeeds. Rothbart's scenarios are realistically rendered and his multidimensional characters embody both the better and baser aspects of human nature. Rothbart reads from Lone Surfer as part of his nationwide "We Are Nighttime Travelers" tour on Thursday, June 19, at 9 PM at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433. He'll be joined by folk singer Devon Sproule and his brother, Peter Rothbart, front man for the band Poem Adept.