by G. Robert Frazier
Tom Hanks can write fiction. Yes, actor Tom Hanks. That Tom Hanks.
Hanks recently published a collection of seventeen short stories, Uncommon Type (Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95) , and it’s an enjoyable read overall. Many of the stories evoke nostalgic memories of times and places gone by. Simpler times, simpler places.
The tales are often heartwarming and amusing — and sometimes surprising, as in the long-distance, cross-time love affair of “The Past is Important to Us,” in which a time traveler constantly revisits the same day in 1939 to be with the girl of his dreams only to overstay his duration with disastrous results. There’s even a short screenplay, “Stay With Us, “ which makes sense given Hanks’ body of filmworks. In “These Are the Meditations of My Heart,” a young woman longs to make an indelible, permanent mark on her life using an antique typewriter. “Three Exhausting Weeks” offers a humorous, whirlwind love affair in which the narrator can’t possibly keep up with his new girlfriend’s flamboyant lifestyle despite his best efforts. But Hanks also weaves several emotional journeys as well, such as “A Special Weekend,” in which his young protagonist experiences his most memorable birthday ever, and “Welcome to Mars,” in which a teenage surfer learns of his father’s secret transgressions.
Hanks excels in creating a sense of place immediately identifiable to readers – we’ve all been there or all remember similar places in our own past – and in crafting believable, likable characters. These are people you meet on the street or people in your own family. Aunts, uncles, salesmen, housewives, children, all with yearnings and desires that are instantly recognizable.
Hanks intersperses the tales with frequent dispatches from fictional journalist Hank Fiset, who presents a series of entertaining newspaper columns while bemoaning the current state of the industry.
While they may lack in action and thrills, Hanks’ stories are a welcome and comforting diversion from an accomplished storyteller, be it on celluloid or on page.