Tom Hanks wrote a book. Yeah… that Tom Hanks. You know, the Academy Award-winner who is the closest to taking on that “everyman” actor mantle since the departure of Jimmy Stewart? And his book, Uncommon Type, is really quite fun.
Uncommon Type is a collection of 17 short stories. Like any anthology, the stories presented within are a mixed bag depending, of course, on the reader’s taste, station of life, and adventures that being on the road will take said reader to the place in time when this book is actually read. Some within are very good. So good, in fact, you don’t want them to end; you crave for the full novel. Some are charming enough to be enjoyable, but also be charmingly forgettable. Four of them, and thank Tom there are only four, are mortally terrible.
Of the very good, Hanks presents the following: Three Exhausting Weeks presents the fun tale of four friends, two of which decide to experiment with the old friends-with-benefits idea. Christmas Eve 1953 tells of a WWII vet who recounts his time overseas ten years back. A Month on Greene Street has a divorced mother encountering her possibly-flirtatious neighbor all set on a mythical suburban street in August. And These Are the Meditations of My Heart is a love letter to the typewriter, which is a theme Hanks carries throughout the entire novel as typewriters of all kinds make an appearance in each of his stories.
The very bad all involve a cranky writer named Hank Fiset who complains about technology and New York and coffee and wishes life could remain stuck in the 1960s American Midwest, which actually sounds like hell to me. And those stories are as close to that infernal realm as I chose to presently get. They are also mercifully short.
Full disclosure here. I listened to the audiobook, because I can listen to Tom Hanks speak for much longer than the ten hours spent enjoying this book. And for an auditory treat, Hanks, he’s an actor remember, adds certain flair to some of the stories.
In Go See Costas, for instance, Hanks recounts the story of a Bulgarian-by-way-of-Greece immigrant coming to New York. Hanks plays up a mild accent for the role, which is a nice touch to a nice story that reminds readers that, oh yeah, America is still one great big melting pot, regardless of what “Those-In-Office” may otherwise think. He concludes with a radio-style play, complete with an appearance from bosom buddy Peter Scolari, that is painfully campy, but solid in heart.
Hanks knows how to craft a story; the man can tell a tale. And most of the stories within follow his everyman, and every-woman in a number of instances, ideals. Some of the stories let you get lost in the world he creates, while others are as uncommon as they are short, which is the ideal premise of what a collection of short stories should be all about. After all, didn’t Hanks once play a character that compared life’s choices to a box of… I dunno… something that comes in boxes… anvils? Right?