There’s very little that’s left unsaid about Tom Hanks the movie star, but not enough is spoken about his sparkling debut story collection – Uncommon Type. It’s remarkably refreshing and poignant but also written with a tongue-in-cheek candour that Hanks was perhaps able to achieve because he wasn’t pitting his writing skills against his acting chops. In fact, the movie business rarely makes an appearance in these stories.
These seventeen tales aren’t connected directly, although a few characters tend to be recurring, except by a sense of empathy that also in a way defines much of Hanks’s film career. It’s evident that Hanks cares deeply about his characters in this book – ranging from journalists, war veterans to immigrants fresh off the boat and billionaire inventors – treating them with gentleness and genuine concern.
Another running thread throughout this collection is typewriters. Hanks’ unending love for these old-fashioned mechanical devices isn’t unknown to the world. Legend has it that he owns over 250 antique typewriters, a true connoisseur by all means. And charmingly enough, a unique typewriter plays a role in each of the stories in this anthology – whether it’s Royal, Underwood, Hermes 2000, or some other kind. He’s also supposed to have written Uncommon Type entirely on a typewriter.
There’s a TV show-like feel to almost all the stories, which isn’t surprising given Hanks’s long and accomplished performing arts career. You can see the scenes play out, hear the lines being spoken, be at one with the drama unfolding in the room. It’s also an inherently hopeful collection, one that’s brimming with amiability that’s not sugary, and far removed from the bleakness we often find in literary fiction today.
Uncommon Type won’t be remembered as an exemplary literary achievement but it's necessary reading for those who still believe in simpler times, and look at nostalgia not as some kind of a fool’s paradise but as a place of shade under a giant tree on a hot summer day.