I wasn’t surprised when I heard that Tom Hanks was writing a book of short stories. Why? Because Richard and I interviewed him a few years ago, and what I remember most about our encounter was his voice. We heard those unmistakeable, distinctive tones before we saw him; he was talking to a producer as he came into the studio, telling her some anecdote or other about his trip over from the US, and when he reached us I blurted: ‘Gosh, you have such a story-teller’s voice!’ He did, too, a sing-song delivery that was both attractive and compelling to listen to.
You can hear that familiar voice as you read these wonderful stories; it’s almost like holding a talking book in your hands as Hank’s rich, mellifluous tones fill your head.
And boy, can the man write. We knew that anyway – articles by Hanks have been published in The New York Times, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker – but he’s never tried his hand at fiction before. He should have done it years ago; he’s a natural. His stories come off the page with the confidence and readability you normally only find with experienced authors.
The theme that links all seventeen stories is nodded at in the title, Uncommon Type – a typewriter features in every chapter, sometimes incidentally, sometimes at the heart of the tale; it’s an effective and somehow endearing feature of this wonderful collection.
I think the typewriter motif is Hanks’s homage to the art of writing; for over a century, the typewriter was synonymous with authorship, the clack-clack-clacking of the keys and the whirring of the roller signalling that a writer was at work. The almost silent tip-tip-tip of the modern word processor has none of the romance of the typewriter. I certainly miss mine and after reading Uncommon Type I’m sorely tempted to get another one, at least for novel-writing.
But typewriters apart, each of these stories could hardly be different. I loved them all and it’s hard to pick a favourite. Perhaps the one about a b-list actor who unexpectedly hits the big-time in a movie starring opposite ‘the most beautiful woman in the world, Willa Sax’ and finds himself in Paris on a whirlwind PR tour. Hanks description of an international press junket is very, very funny and obviously based on personal experience. Wherever the actor goes, he is relentlessly asked the same unvarying three questions.
What is it like working with Willa Sax?
What is it like kissing Willa Sax?
Is that really your ass in the hurricane scene?
Great stuff. As is the tale of four pals who manage to build a spaceship in someone’s back yard and fly it to the moon. Utterly improbable but in Hanks’s sure hands, completely believable. And utterly different in content and tone from the story about a divorced woman trying to settle in a strange new neighbourhood.
The obvious question for Hanks is: what next? On the strength of Uncommon Type, a full-length novel beckons.