Let it be known that I am a big Tom Hanks fan. Like HUGE. You’ve Got Mail is my favorite movie, and Hanks is my favorite actor. So when I learned that he had a book of short stories coming out, I just had to get my hands on it.
And guess what? America’s dad can actually write.
Uncommon Type is a collection of short stories and Tom Hanks’ first book of fiction. These 17 stories are simple in nature, diverse snapshots of lives from past to future. From a man who decides to date his friend and gets a lifestyle overhaul to a man who keeps bowling the perfect game, these stories are sentimental and sweet, just like Tom.
There’s a strong sense of nostalgia in this collection, which can best be seen in a four-part series of stories called “Our Town Today with Hank Fiset,” in which a writer comments on the shift from print to digital newspapers and other “good ole days” discussions, via his typewriter (of course). This theme is also strong in “The Past is Important to Us,” a Midnight in Paris-esque story about a man who keeps going back in time (literally) to the World’s Fair 1939.
There is also, of course, the underlying presence of typewriters. For those of you who don’t know, Hanks has a slight obsession with the machine. He even typed up this collection on one. So he made sure that one crops up in each of his stories in some way, just another element of the “yearning for older times” theme that’s present throughout the book. In particular, “These are the Meditations of My Heart” is all about a woman who falls in love with typewriters.
As I read this collection, I couldn’t help but compare the stories to Hanks’ movies. That WWII veteran reflecting on the friends he lost in “Christmas Eve 1953” gave me images of Saving Private Ryan. The immigrant from a war-torn country in “Go See Costas” reminded me of The Terminal. And “Alan Bean Plus Four” definitely had Apollo 13 vibes. Even minor characters in other stories had me pondering one of the star’s many roles. There’s one story, “Junket in the City of Lights,” about a debut actor’s packed touring schedule that I assume Hanks drew upon personal experiences to write. He even said in an interview that he wrote many of these stories while traveling for films or on press tours.
What I love about this collection the most is how diverse it is. Hanks definitely played around with character, style, and setting to tell a larger story about humanity and how things change over time. The most powerful story in the book is “Go See Costas,” a heartfelt depiction of immigration. But there are also light-hearted, comedic moments in the book to balance out the more emotional ones.
Unlike a lot of stars-turned-author, Hanks actually holds his own as a strong writer. While I think he played it safe and could have done a little more risk-taking with this debut, he is a good storyteller, and I look forward to any more pieces of fiction he comes out with next.