A collection of seventeen wonderful short stories showing that two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks is as talented a writer as he is an actor.
A gentle Eastern European immigrant arrives in New York City after his family and his life have been torn apart by his country’s civil war. A man who loves to bowl rolls a perfect game–and then another and then another and then many more in a row until he winds up ESPN’s newest celebrity, and he must decide if the combination of perfection and celebrity has ruined the thing he loves. An eccentric billionaire and his faithful executive assistant venture into America looking for acquisitions and discover a down and out motel, romance, and a bit of real life. These are just some of the tales Tom Hanks tells in this first collection of his short stories. They are surprising, intelligent, heartwarming, and, for the millions and millions of Tom Hanks fans, an absolute must-have
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher.
Uncommon Type is my second short story collection in a row. This book is a series of 17 stories from the mind of Oscar-winning silver screen legend Tom Hanks. Each in some way, shape or form connects to the common theme of typewriters. In some cases these wonderful mechanical devices from the heart of the story, in others they appear as a cameo. I’ll be reviewing this book in a different way to my normal reviews, reviewing each story to rate the book overall.
Three Exhausting Weeks
I really enjoyed this as an opener to the collection. When two old friends with very different perspectives on life enter into a relationship built almost entirely on lust, something has to give. Hanks builds relatable and likeable leading characters. The clash of polar-opposite personalities is well crafted, showing the issues when a relationship forsakes the important elements of the people within. An enjoyable opening gambit to the collection.
Christmas Eve 1953
This tale opens with a family man returning home on Christmas Eve. Family traditions unfold around him: the placing of family gifts under the tree, sharing dinner, enjoying Christmas records together before leaving notes to Santa alongside a glass of milk and a plate of cookies. As a massive Christmas lover the depictions of this most wonderful time of year left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling. The story takes a deeper, more emotional twist when our protagonist takes his annual phone call from an old friend, a fellow ex-soldier where they catch up. Throughout the call we here an internal monologue of sorts, a recounting of the man’s personal, dark experiences of the war. This story was a real thinker, one I felt was deep and wonderful at once.
A Junket in the City of Light
This story follows the less-than-famous co-star in the latest in a franchise of international blockbusters. It follows his tours around the globe to promote the film, the hectic schedule of a secondary character always in the shadow of his far more desirable leading lady. I found this story a bit more drab, sluggish and less entertaining than the previous two, but still something of an insight into the life of an up and coming actor.
Our Town Today with Hank Fiset – An Elephant in the Pressroom
I quite enjoyed this story. It felt like a wistful look at the industry of newsroom publishing. A discussion on the future of news media moving in to online or digital outlets, the medium of print dying out. It recounts the tale of the narrator’s old colleague and his old habits even as modernisation reigns around him. A warm, cozy story looking back to days gone by in the face of progress.
Welcome to Mars
Another warming story, at least in the most part. Welcome to Mars sees a father in an unhappy marriage want to take his son surfing on his 19th birthday. Memories are recounted about some of the troubles the family unit have seen, so this seems a positive, heart warming event. When the father has to go and make some business calls however, the son injures himself out on the water. In seeking out his dad to help, he discovers an unsavoury secret about his father’s relationship adding a sour twist that made this an intriguing story.
A Month on Greene Street
A single mother of three moves in to a new street after the collapse of her marriage. She seems to have a special talent, the ability to see a brief flash of events in the immediate moments surrounding them. As her husband arrived home late from work one evening, she saw that he had been seeing another woman. In her first month she sees a few other pops relating the creepy neighbour who turns out to be a decent guy trying to make a better life for himself. The story ends with a happy final flash, possibly of her future here on Greene Street.
Alan Bean Plus Four
This was a bit different. I couldn’t make up my mind if it was the product of overactive imaginations on the part of the characters or actual events, but was entertaining nonetheless. It follows the four lead characters from Three Exhausting Weeks as they work to build their own spacecraft to travel around the moon. The story charts their journey to construct the vessel, along with their trip through space and around the moon. It’s a fun tale, though just seemed a little random compared to others in the book.
Our Town Today with Hank Fiset – At Loose in The Big Apple
While his wife visits New York for a college reunion, her husband tags along to take in the sights and sounds of the big city. He takes in all the big hitters, but finds himself homesick, comparing everything to his home town and realising bigger isn’t necessarily better. It makes for a warm tale of the joys and comforts of home.
Sue is an aspiring actress who has up and moved her life to New York to chase her dream of starring on Broadway. Hanks paints a picture of shattered dreams, how she started out as a young actress back home in Arizona, and her pursuit of the dream. A chance encounter from an old face from her past leads to a change in her fortunes.
A Special Weekend
This one was a bit less entertaining than some of Hanks’ other short stories here. It follows a boy heading out for a surprise weekend for his upcoming birthday with his mother. The trip involved a big surprise for the birthday boy. Sadly, his mother had to work so the surprise got put off and pushed back, while she avoided mentioning her new boyfriend to her son. He finally gets his treat right at the end of his weekend.
These Are The Meditations of My Heart
I think this is my favourite story in the book. A romantic ode to the typewriter. After purchasing a cheap typewriter at a swap meet, a young lady takes it off to be repaired back to a working order. The proprietor of the repair shop refuses to repair what he says is essentially a toy, stating it is not a true typewriter. The man digs in to the motivations for owning a typewriter, going through some of his restored vintage machines, waxing lyrical about each and their romantic virtues. Given I would love to own a typewriter myself, I found this story to be beautifully written – a wistful look back to simpler times.
Our Town Today With Hank Fiset-Back From Back in Time
Our now good friend Hank Fiset returns. Sat at the table with his trusty old typewriter, Hank takes us on a meander down memory lane – recounting just some of the key events in his life that he has shared with his typewriter. Another warm, wistful look back at simpler times.
The Past is Important to Us
An elderly, eccentric billionaire spends his fortune on a procedure allowing him to hop back to June 1939, New York so he can experience World’s Fair. Initially he visits with his young wife, though she loses interest pretty soon in time travelling to the same date over and over. On a solo visit the old man spots an attractive young lady that catches his eye and he becomes infatuated. This leads to repeat visits until he is told his health only permits one final visit to a nostalgic past.
Stay With Us
I struggled with this story. It seemed to be written in the style of a screenplay complete with stage directions. It follows a wealthy man and his assistant as they take a trip to the heart of nowhere USA, under the premise of buying up land. Masquerading in his view of the common man, he ends up at an old, struggling motel on a now-silent highway. The owners recount their memories of their establishment back when the highway was thriving and the rooms were always full.
Go See Costas
A meek immigrant from Eastern Europe makes the journey from Greece to New York. Having lost everything – his family, his life, he hopes America offers a new start for him. This story is a tale of multiculturalism and the strife those less well off face – something of a timely tale in today’s world.
Our Town Today With Hank Fiset-Your Evangelista, Esperanza
This is our final visit with Tri-Cities roving reporter Hank Fiset. Here he extols the virtues of the priceless black liquid – no, not oil, coffee. He regales us of the best coffee outlets in the area, but one seems to take the cake. It also acts as an office space for Esperanza, a bank worker who has forsaken all smart technology, the trivialities of social media too, in lieu of a good old typewriter. Here she can type up her bank papers, as well as love letters, notes and all other manner of documentation for coffee shop clients for the small price of the occasional mug of coffee.
Steve Wong is Perfect
The final story in this collection sees a return to the crazy characters we met in Three Exhausting Weeks and Alan Bean Plus Four. This time the gang head out for some light-hearted ten pin bowling. Steve Wong manages to bowl the perfect game. Then repeats this feat on the following two visits. This sets off a chain reaction leading to an appearance on ESPN with $100,000 at stake if he could achieve this feat once more on TV.
I really enjoyed this collection of short stories. Tom Hanks is clearly a man with a love for the simple things in life, and this book demonstrates that not only is he a fantastic actor, but a pretty good wordsmith to boot!