Lestat's Reviews > Uncommon Type: Some Stories

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
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bookshelves: netgalley

I love short stories and cannot understand why the publishing industry don't have the same amount of faith in them. It doesn't help that there is apparently not much of a purchasing public out there for short story collections, but it is an art form that should be nurtured, because there are plenty of fans like me out there. For this reason I was excited to come across Tom Hanks' short story collection. I am not big on reading celebrity books, but my curiosity for this collection was piqued and I was lucky to get a copy off Netgalley.

I won't break down my thoughts of each story, plenty of people have already done that. Hanks has produced an easy read reflective of his understanding of the world. The entire book is imbued with a rose-tinted positivity that seems at odds with the times we will live in. It isn't that happy endings should be a thing of the past, but that, when 16 out of 17 stories end with a convenient happy ending, the contrivance supersedes the substance.

Hanks' writing comes alive when he is writing about the film industry, as in the story about the film stars and their crazy schedules. There is a level of detail in there that belies the author's own feelings about the promotional side of film-making. This kind of attention is not paid to the majority of the other stories, though Hanks does seem to know a fair bit about surfing and typewriters apparently.

Typewriters are the common theme running through the entire book; many a story is an ode to the lost art of writing on these machines. While the theme ties the stories together, I would have preferred more oblique references to the theme than entire stories revolving around it - at some point it begins to feel the theme is dictating the substance of the story rather than the other way around.

While the book is a pleasant read throughout, what troubled me was Hanks' inability to write believable, or relatable, female characters. I wanted to relegate all biases I had absorbed from review headlines to the back seat when I finally received my copy of the book, but the author does himself no favours by opening the book with a story about a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who torments her partner by trying to change everything about him. I found the entire story tedious because it was, and could only have been, written by a man; in fact, you could hear Hanks' voice clearly in the narrative, which made me wonder how much was fiction and how much was perceived reality.

Subsequent stories are unable to create vivid personalities for the women characters, though their physical attributes are almost always highlighted. Particularly egregious is the story 'Stay With Us', inexplicably written in screenplay form, where the central doddering male protagonist has a super attractive, slim, high-heeled female assistant. I kept expecting the bubble to pop and for it all to turn out to be a script read by incredulous actors/directors/someone, but the penny did not drop and that was the story.

There is a paucity of diverse characters in this book as well, which baffles me but shouldn't. The first story (and its two sequels) include new American citizens of Asian and African origins, but they are not central to the stories - nor do we get a feeling of their homelands or their migrant experience living in a new country. The only story that touches on the migrant experience is 'Go See Costas', but that too doesn't delve too deep into the subject. That leaves the majority of the stories with quintessential characters of no particular ethnicity. Perhaps I ask too much of writers to paint a realistic picture of the diverse world (or town) we live in, but admittedly even if we are surrounded by other races and nationalities, on average most people gravitate to their own kind. Books are merely reflective of this behaviour.

For a quick and pleasant read, this book is just what the doctor ordered. It is an enjoyable, if unmemorable experience, but an accomplished one all the same.
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Reading Progress

October 23, 2017 – Started Reading
October 27, 2017 – Shelved
October 31, 2017 – Finished Reading
August 4, 2018 – Shelved as: netgalley

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