Monday, September 9, 2019

Tom Hanks' Uncommon Type: A Study in Voice

I picked up the audiobook of Tom Hanks' short story collection Uncommon Type on a whim. I knew he'd been in Nashville promoting the book, but I hadn't heard much about it from my reading circles. Since the narrator of a book can make or break the experience, I was pleased to note that Hanks was reading his own work.

Just as the audience has to suspend disbelief when seeing the same actor in different roles--think Forrest Gump, Big, You've Got Mail--hearing the familiar voice delivering these stories might have been a distraction. It wasn't.
The first story "Three Exhausting Weeks" introduces a four characters that reappear in a couple of later stories, four friends who couldn't be more different from one another. The narrator has minimal pressure to work, having inherited money after his mother's death, leaving him time for adventures with his friends: Anna, the only female in the group, and two males--Steve Wong, a prodigious bowler and new citizen MDash.

Hanks manages to inject a little magical realism and time travel in some stories, while the others are realistic, even nostalgic. In only one story does the narration shift from Hanks alone to a cast that comes across like reader's theatre, or an episode of "Guy Noir, Private Eye."

The sole element that unites the story is the presence of at least once vintage manual typewriter in each story. I found myself listening for it the way Hitchcock fans kept an eye peeled for his cameo shot in each film.

The stories stand on their own with out the celebrity factor. In fact, the dramatist's eye for the specific and tangible, as well as his ear for clever dialogue made for a surprisingly pleasant reading experience.