When a towering actor’s name is on the cover of a book, the reader’s expectations are equally high. We expect the Oscar-winning actor to produce Booker-winning work. But Uncommon Type, a collection of stories from Hanks, his first effort at writing, does not make any sort of big splash or clamour for attention, proclaiming the advent of a hot new star on the literary scene. What the stories do instead is leave the reader with a warm, fuzzy feeling, the pages sharing a slice of many lives. It could be as simple as a woman moving into a new neighbourhood, where her initial scepticism over her neighbour turns into a comfortable companionship, or science fiction where time travel is possible, of course with disastrous consequences. On more than one occasion, the reader encounters characters that could be from one of Hanks’ movies, like Virgil Beuell in Christmas Eve 1953, who instantly brings to mind Saving Private Ryan. Or a rather brutal, but honest depiction of the reality that exists behind the facade of glamour associated with a movie star in A Junket in The City of Light.
Predictable struggles of wannabe Broadway stars make the book sag somewhere in the middle, but a spectacular journey to the moon and back makes it rocket again. Puns very much intended, like “Steve Wong lost his Samsung (the Galaxy! Ha!)” reveal Hanks’ humorous side, just as his depiction of Anna, who features in three stories along with the rest of her companions, and who is “still very pretty”, having never lost her “lean, rope-taut body of a triathlete”, is “driven, focused, and tightly wound”, and “exhausting”. Of course, when the foursome build a rocket in their backyard to travel to the moon, there is no doubt that if they were to actually step on the satellite, Anna would be the first among them, and the 13th human to ever do so. Perhaps it’s in this knowledge that the trip is restricted to just flying around the moon and not actually landing.
Some stories could seem meandering at first, but end with a big burst of emotion, like A Special Weekend, in which a boy spends a birthday with his divorced mother, or Welcome to Mars, where the dysfunctional aspects of a seemingly normal family come through. Hanks has a special fascination for America as a country, depicting it as the attractive and ultimate destination for immigrants, big enough to risk illegal entry, where eating “a most delicious meal” of hot dogs seems like the ultimate satisfaction, and where becoming a US citizen is reason enough to weep.
The typewriter, for which he has a personal fascination, appears everywhere, silently, or as the star of a story as in These Are The Meditations of My Heart, “echoing softly…until long after midnight.” The book is rather long at just over 400 pages, but then you can choose to stop where you wish to, only you don’t. Like Hanks’ box of chocolates in Forrest Gump, you don’t know what the next story is going to be about, and it just might be a sweet surprise. A box of chocolates