Yep, it’s that Tom Hanks. But “Uncommon Type: Some Stories” is no vanity project. Each of the 17 selections in this volume shares the humor, the warmth, the vulnerability, the decency that we have come to expect from the intelligent and much-lauded actor.
Some of the stories explore the same characters at various times. Some of the stories verge on the fantastic. All of the stories consider the past in some way; some consider the future. Each is an indelible photograph of the American landscape — even from Europe.
And all of the stories are connected by one element, something actually dear to the heart of the author: a typewriter. Sometimes the typewriter is the focus of its story; most often it is peripheral.
A word here: Hanks recognizes the personal nature and the permanence of any piece of typewritten correspondence. He embraces the touch, the feel, the sound of a typewriter. (Still a digital activist? Check out the “Hanx Writer” app.)
There are stories about friendship, like the three that deal with the same group of friends, whose proximity to each other teaches them various life lessons.
In one of those stories, major infatuation teaches two of the group that they are better as friends than as lovers. In another, each of the friends deals with the others’ stretch towards perfection. And in the near-perfect “Alan Bean Plus Four,” the four friends fly around the moon: “And as for stepping out on the surface? Hell, choosing which of the four of us would get out first and become the thirteenth person to leave bootprints up there would have led to so much bad blood that our crew would have broken up long before T minus ten seconds and counting.”
There are stories about coming of age. A young surfer celebrates his 19th birthday in “Welcome to Mars.” In the early morning surf of Mars beach, he learns more about his father than he ever wanted to know. Young Larry, in a bittersweet look at the effect divorce has on all concerned, celebrates “A Special Weekend” with the mother who left him. In “A Month on Greene Street,” a recent divorcee moves with her kids into a new house and learns not to fear her new life.
There are even stories about actors. An actress learns to make her mark on the New York stage in the touching “Who’s Who.” The astonishingly handsome Rory Thorp — who is also “as dumb as a box of hair” and who is dealing with sudden stardom and a suddenly cancelled publicity tour — discovers what it’s like to be on his own in the hysterical “A Junket in the City of Light.”
There are also four interlocking pieces, each called “Our Town Today with Hank Fiset,” that serve as a collective paean to the endangered print newspaper. In one “column” each, Hank takes on digital media, New York City, swap meets and, affectingly, typewritten correspondence to express an individual’s feelings: “If he did so in a typed letter, it and the moment would last forever.”
But if there’s only one reason to discover “Uncommon Type” — though there are many — it has to be “Christmas Eve 1953,” a subtly rendered story that chronicles how an annual late-night Christmas Eve call between former Army buddies brings back memories of the war they fought almost 10 years earlier on Christmas Eve 1944. This story, most of all, is enough evidence to convince readers that they will be as rewarded reading the works of Tom Hanks as they already have been seeing his work on the screen.
Steven Whitton is a retired Professor of English.