Uncommon Type: Some Stories
(2017) by Thomas Jeffrey “Tom” Hanks comprises seventeen short stories about characters from all walks of life. It received mixed reviews upon publication; some readers find it a relaxed and heart-warming collection, while others find the characters are one-dimensional. Hanks, an Oscar-winning actor, is best known for his roles in Cast Away
, The Da Vinci Code
, and Forrest Gump
. He has also worked as the voice actor for blockbuster movies including Toy Story
and The Polar Express
. Uncommon Type
is his first written story collection.
For the most part, the stories in Uncommon Type
are not connected. However, some elements link the stories together. Some characters reappear in various stories, and every story contains a typewriter, symbolizing timelessness, tradition, and craftsmanship. Throughout the collection, Hanks suggests that these qualities are hard to come by in the twenty-first-century world.Uncommon Type
begins with the story “Three Exhausting Weeks” in which an unnamed narrator hooks up with a woman called Anna. She is his opposite: she is wild and energetic, and he is reserved and quiet. Three weeks is more than enough time to spend together. Although the relationship exhausts him, he doesn’t regret living on the edge and trying something new.
Anna and this nameless narrator reappear in another story, “Steve Wong is Perfect.” Steve has a hidden talent for bowling, and when local reporters find out about it, they catapult him to regional fame. He doesn’t enjoy the spotlight shining on him, and his friends, including Anna and the narrator, help him cope with his new life.
Like “Steve Wong is Perfect,” many of the stories center on change. In “A Junket in the City of Light,” Rory, an actor, dreams of Hollywood fame. When he finally gets a break, he realizes that stardom means hard work and sacrifice. Similarly, in “Who’s Who,” another aspiring actor, Sue, runs out of money and loses her friends in her quest to find fame. New York is a big disappointment for her.
Other characters experience positive change. For example, in “These Are the Meditations of My Heart,” a man dumps the nameless narrator, leaving her broken-hearted. She doesn’t know how to move forward until she purchases a typewriter. She writes letters and poems on the typewriter, which allows her to clear her head. After some time, she feels ready to move on with her life.
Hanks explores family relationships and disjointed family dynamics. In “Welcome to Mars,” teenager Kirk finds out that his father is cheating on his mother on the same day that he celebrates his nineteenth birthday. He doesn’t know if he will ever forgive his father. He feels guilty whenever he looks at his mother. In “A Special Weekend,” a ten-year-old boy spends the weekend with his mother. He usually lives with his father, but as it is his birthday, his mother wants to see him. Seeing his mother reminds him of how things used to be; it upsets him to know that his parents won’t ever get back together.
Other stories in the collection focus on charity and the kindness of strangers. A Bulgarian immigrant reaches America after a long, hard journey in “Go See Costas.” Communist bounty hunters are chasing him, and if he doesn’t find sanctuary, he will die. As he travels across America, he relies on the kindness of others to cover his tracks and find work to support himself.
The past and memories are very important to Hanks’s characters. In “Christmas Eve 1953,” Virgil Buell receives a call from a long-lost friend, Bud. Bud and Virgil served in World War II together, and they speak every Christmas Eve at midnight. The call anchors them both because no one else understands what they went through during the War.
One of the most significant stories in the collection is “The Past is Important to Us.” The protagonist, Bert Allenberry, is lonely and looking for excitement. A sixty-year-old billionaire, he doesn’t have many friends who care about him as a person. He knows that money can’t buy happiness, but when he finds out about a time-traveling project which takes people back to the 1939 World’s Fair, he can’t resist signing up. It might be his last chance at happiness.
It is important that Bert returns home at a specific time because the tour operator, Chronometric Adventures, can’t support him in the past for longer than twenty-two hours. Meeting the woman of his dreams on the trip, he forgets all about the twenty-two-hour window. Breaking apart, atom-by-atom, he dies back in 1939; it is as if he’s never been born. The story questions the nature of life and memory.