Tom Hanks’ short story collection Uncommon Type is much like his on-screen persona — warm, comforting, nostalgic. The stories, even the more sci-fi ones, harken back to simpler times, and the writing style reminds me a bit of classic lit.
Hanks’ strength as an actor is the humanity he brings to his roles, and similarly, the strength of these stories is the depth of the characters. On one hand, the characters feel ordinary, and not the real type of ordinary that socks you in the gut with their realness, but more like the extras in Hollywood movies. But there’s a glimpse of the emotions and experiences beneath the surface, and that it turn infuses the tales with a bit of a bittersweet tang.
My favourite stories:
– “The Past is Important to Us” a time traveller falls in love with a young woman he sees at the World Fair, but the time travel technology can only take him back to that same day and gives him a maximum of 22 hours before he has to return. The choice he makes at the end is bittersweet.
– “Steve Wong is Perfect” – a guy hits a streak of perfect strikes in bowling and gains fame and fortune but loses the joy in playing. I love how Hanks depicts Steve’s gradual emotional decline.
– “Go See Costas” — a Bulgarian immigrant survives violence back home and struggles to find a job in America. The final scene is powerful.
– “A Special Weekend” — a young boy is treated to a weekend at a hotel and then a plane ride with his mom and her boyfriend — Hanks is coy about the role of this man in the mom’s life, realistically reflecting the perception of his child narrator who’s mostly excited about the plane
– “Three Exhausting Weeks” – a pair of best friends, one a health and exercise nut and the other a couch potato, hook up and their romance leads to the couch potato guy wondering if he can keep up with his girlfriend’s lifestyle. I found this funny and relatable, and I especially love the side characters MDash and Steve Wong, and the subplot about MDash’s citizenship ceremony.
I also really liked the stories “A Junket in the City of Light” and “Who’s Who?” because they both give a glimpse into the life of an actor. “Junket” does a great job in portraying how exhausting press tours can be when promoting a film, and in this story, the lead character has to face the harsh reality that it’s really his co-star the press cares about and not him. In “Who’s Who?” an agent tells a beginner actress she basically has to reinvent herself (change her name, change the way she presents her high school theatre experience) to land a job. When she tells him that she’s afraid changing her name will disappoint her parents, he responds, “Disappointing your parents is the first thing to do when you come to New York.”
Typewriter buffs and people who love shopping in independent stores will love “”These Are the Meditations of My Heart.” A woman takes a cheap typewriter in for repair and instead discovers the perfect state of the art typewriter for what she needs. When the shopkeeper asks her why she wanted that particular machine, she says:
“I just want to set down what few truths I’ve come to know. […] I want my yet-to-be-conceived children to someday read the meditations of my heart. I will have personally stamped them into the fibers of page upon page, real stream-of-consciousness stuff that I will keep in a shoe box until my kids are old enough to both read and ponder the human condition!” she heard herself shouting. “They will pass the pages back and forth between them and say, ‘So that’s what Mom was doing making all that noise with all that typing,’ and I am sorry! I’m yelling!”
“Ah,” he said.
“Why am I yelling?”
The old man blinked at the young lady. “You are seeking permanence.” [pp. 234-235]
Hanks is very public about his own love of typewriters, and he has a whole collection of them. I can imagine him yelling as the young lady in this story does, and pounding away at the eyes to tell the stories in this book. It’s a heartwarming image, and as a Tom Hanks fan, I’m glad I got to pass time with these pages of truths he’s come to know.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.