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Uncommon Type: Some Stories

Review

Uncommon Type: Some Stories

Tom Hanks was a much-featured player on the screens of my growing-up years. He was Woody, Forrest Gump, Mr. White, Jim Lovell, Robert Langdon and, of course, Joe Fox. I can’t look at the large bottle of olive oil in my pantry without thinking, “I have met Joe Fox. And I have heard him compare his store to a Price Club, and the books in it to cans of olive oil.” And now Hanks is gracing bookshelves everywhere with his debut collection of short stories, UNCOMMON TYPE.

There are many reasons why I was interested in this book, only one of which is the fact that Hanks is the movie dad of my generation. Another is that I already had read his short story that appeared in The New Yorker in 2014, and I wanted to see if he could keep up the standard for 400 pages.

UNCOMMON TYPE ranges widely in subject matter. There are several characters who recur throughout the book. One of those is Hank Fiset and his newspaper column, “Our Town Today.” Hank, you can tell, is a traditionalist. He’s not happy about the internet or technological advances, or “a watch that needs recharging every night.” Hank’s stories come in the form of his newspaper column. His piece about a visit to New York City was rather funny --- apparently there is nothing New York can do any better than the Tri-Cities.

"The writing throughout the collection is solid.... Hanks narrates the audio version of UNCOMMON TYPE, but the prose feels so uniquely his that his voice comes through when you read it yourself."

Three stories are centered on the group of friends featured in The New Yorker piece: MDash, Steve Wong, Anna and the unnamed male narrator. They go bowling in one story. In another, the narrator and Anna enter into a three-week relationship full of Anna trying to change his habits and him willingly, for the most part, going along with it. In the third, they build a rocket ship and go to the moon.

Amongst the 17 stories are a handful about acting. “Who’s Who” revolves around Sue, a young stage actress trying to find an apartment and a way into Equity in 1978 New York City. “Junket in the City of Light” follows a no-name actor who happens to land a role in a franchise opposite the “it” girl of the moment and his press tour for the movie. “Stay with Us” is essentially a screenplay that I have no doubt we’ll see in theaters in March or November in a few years. One of my favorite stories in the collection is “Christmas Eve 1953.” It is at first an innocuous tale about Virgil Buell and his family on Christmas Eve that progresses into Virgil revisiting Christmas Eve 1944 when he was a Private First Class stationed in a precarious Belgium forest.

The writing throughout the collection is solid. Some of the phrasing feels a little dusty, even in the context of stories that take place in the past. Hanks wrote the stories on his large collection of vintage typewriters, so in an odd way it makes sense that the prose has an air of nostalgia. It also can be a little slow at times and somewhat redundant; it took me longer than expected to make it through the entire book. Hanks narrates the audio version of UNCOMMON TYPE, but the prose feels so uniquely his that his voice comes through when you read it yourself.

While subjects here are as wide-ranging as Hanks’ acting credits, one subtle theme runs through the collection: happiness. He writes happy stories about an America and a world where unpleasant and weird things happen, but people make the best of it and help each other. Idealistic? Absolutely. What America needs right now? Definitely. 

Reviewed by Sarah Jackman on October 27, 2017

Uncommon Type: Some Stories
by Tom Hanks

  • Publication Date: October 17, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 1101946156
  • ISBN-13: 9781101946152