A collection of seventeen wonderful short stories showing that two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks is as talented a writer as he is an actor.
A gentle Eastern European immigrant arrives in New York City after his family and his life have been torn apart by his country's civil war. A man who loves to bowl rolls a perfect gameand then another and then another and then many more in a row until he winds up ESPN's newest celebrity, and he must decide if the combination of perfection and celebrity has ruined the thing he loves. An eccentric billionaire and his faithful executive assistant venture into America looking for acquisitions and discover a down and out motel, romance, and a bit of real life. These are just some of the tales Tom Hanks tells in this first collection of his short stories. They are surprising, intelligent, heartwarming, and, for the millions and millions of Tom Hanks fans, an absolute must-have!
TOM HANKS has been an actor, screenwriter, director and, through Playtone, a producer. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker. This is his first collection of fiction.
A Month on Greene Street
The first of August is usually only so notable—the start of the eighth month in the middle of summer on what might or might not be the hottest day ever. But this year, yowza, a lot was going on that day.
Little Sharri Monk was sure to lose another tooth, a partial lunar eclipse was due around 9:15 p.m., and Bette Monk (mother of Sharri; her older sister, Dale; and her younger brother, Eddie) was moving them all into a three-bedroom house on Greene Street. The home so picturesque she knew she would live there the moment she saw the real estate listing. Bette had a vision—pop—of herself and the kids in the kitchen for a busy breakfast. She was manning the stove-top griddle, turning pancakes, the kids in school clothes finishing their homework and fighting over the last of the orange juice. Her mental image was so focused, so particular, there was no question the house on Greene Street—oh, that massive sycamore tree in the front yard—would be hers. Theirs.
Bette had visions—was there any other way to put it? Not every day and never with any spiritual glow, but she would sense a flash, she’d see a pop, like a photo of a vacation taken long ago that held complete memories of all that happened before and all that came after. When her husband, Bob Monk, had come home from work one day—pop—Bette saw a full-color snapshot of him holding hands with Lorraine Conner-Smythe in the restaurant attached to the Mission Bell Marriott Hotel. Lorraine did consulting work with Bob’s company, so the two of them had many chances to sniff each other out. In that nanosecond Bette knew her marriage with Bob had gone from just fine to over. Pop.
If Bette were to count all the times she had such visions—from when she was a little girl—and how those visions came to pass, she could have regaled a dinner party for a full evening with examples: the scholarship she would win four years after learning of its existence, the dorm room she would have in Iowa City, the man she would sleep with for the first time (not Bob Monk), the wedding dress she would wear at the altar (opposite Bob Monk), the view of the Chicago River she would enjoy once the job interview with the Sun-Times went her way, the phone call she saw coming the night her parents were hit by a drunk driver. She knew the sexes of her children the moment she saw the test results over the sink in her bathroom. The list went on and on and on. Not that she made a big deal out of any of the visions, claiming no special clairvoyance or an all-seeing mentalism. Bette thought most people had the same kind of visions, they just didn’t realize it. And not all of her visions came to pass. She once saw herself being a contestant on Jeopardy! but that never happened. Still, her accuracy ratio was awfully impressive.
Bob wanted to marry Lorraine as soon as their affair was discovered, so he paid for the privilege, assuring Bette’s financial security until the kids were off to college and the child support ceased. Buying the house on Greene Street required hoop jumping with the bank, glowing inspections, and a six-month escrow, but the deed was signed. The lawn, that sycamore, the front porch, all those bedrooms, and the minioffice attached to the garage made for a Promised Land, especially after the narrow, split-level condo in which she had first parked her money and where the four of them lived like kittens in a box, all on top of each other. Now they had a backyard, so deep and wide! With a pomegranate tree! Bette saw her kids—pop—in T-shirts covered in purple dribble spots come October!
Greene Street was isolated, with almost no traffic except the residents, making it safe for street play. On August 1 the kids begged the movers to unload their bikes and Eddie’s Big Wheel before anything else so they could cruise their new turf. The moving crew was a bunch of young Mexican guys who had kids of their own, so they were happy to oblige and to watch the children play, carefree, as they unpacked and carried a household’s worth of stuff.
Bette spent the morning testing her high school Spanish, sending boxes to the right rooms, and having furniture placed according to her intuition—the sofa facing the window, bookshelves bordering the fireplace. Around 11:00 a.m., Dale came running in with a pair of chubby boys, maybe ten years old, probably twins, both with the same bashful look and matching dimples. “Mom! This is Keyshawn and Trennelle. They live four houses over.” “Keyshawn. Trennelle,” Bette said. “Howdy do?” “They said I could have lunch with them.” Bette eyed the boys. “Is that true?” “Yes, ma’am,” said either Keyshawn or Trennelle. “Did you just call me ma’am?” “Yes, ma’am.” “You, Keyshawn, have good manners. Or are you Tren-nelle?” The boys pointed to themselves, saying their names. Since they dressed differently, not like twins in some movie, Bette would always know who was who. Plus, Keyshawn had his hair in perfectly tied cornrows while Trennelle’s head was shaved nearly clean. “What’s on the menu?” Bette asked. “Today we have franks and beans, ma’am.” “Who is making this lunch, exactly?” “Our Gramma Alice,” Trennelle told her. “Our mother works at AmCoFederal Bank. Our father works for Coca- Cola, but we’re not allowed to drink Coca- Cola. Only on Sun-day. Our Gramma Diane lives in Memphis. We don’t have granddads. Our mother will come to your house when she comes home and will bring you flowers from our garden to say ‘welcome wagon.’ Our father will come by, too, with some Coca- Cola, if it’s allowed, or Fanta, if you prefer. We didn’t ask Gramma Alice if there is going to be enough food for Eddie and Sharri, so they can’t come.”
“Mom! Yes? No?” Dale was just about to burst.
“Have something green with the franks and beans and I’m thinking yes.”
“Would apples be good with you, ma’am? For something green? We have green apples.”
“Apples would do the trick, Trennelle.”
The three kids lit out of the house, off the porch, down the steps, under the low-hanging limbs of the sycamore, and across the lawn. Bette followed just far enough to watch them rush through a front door four houses away. Then she hollered for Eddie and Sharri to park their bikes on the front lawn and come in for the sandwiches she would make as soon as she found the fixings.
Three Exhausting Weeks 3
Christmas Eve 1953 35
A Junket in The City of Light 61
Our Town Today With Hank Fiset-an Elephant in The Pressroom 85
Welcome to Mars 91
A Month on Greene Street 113
Alan Bean Plus Four 145
Our Town Today With Hank Fiset-at Loose in The Big Apple 157
Who'S Who? 163
A Special Weekend 187
These Are The Meditations of My Heart 225
Our Town Today With Hank Fiset-Back From Back in Time 243
The Past is Important to Us 249
Stay With Us 287
Go See Costas 345
Our Town Today With Hank Fiset-Your Evangelista, Esperanza 379
Steve Wong is Perfect 385
Oscar-winner Hanks’s debut collection is a wide-ranging affair of 17 stories threaded together by the recurring image of typewriters—some stories, like the intriguing “These Are the Meditations of My Heart,” build entire narratives around the machines, while others mention them in passing. In “Alan Bean Plus Four,” one of the collection’s best entries, four friends decide to build a backyard rocket and orbit the moon. These same characters star in two more stories, the enjoyable bowling yarn “Steve Wong Is Perfect,” and the less noteworthy “Three Exhausting Weeks,” which uses standard romantic comedy tropes in recollecting a wacky and doomed relationship. Hanks’s stories sometimes lead to pat, happy endings, but not always—“Christmas Eve 1953” develops a simple holiday story into a rumination on war. Similarly, “The Past Is Important to Us” employs a sharp, unexpected conclusion to elevate a story of time travel and romance at the 1939 World’s Fair. Hanks’s narrators speak with similar verbal tics—multiple narrators say “Noo Yawk,” for example—but the stories they tell generally charm. The only true misfires come when Hanks breaks away from traditional structure: the story-as-screenplay “Stay With Us” drags, and faux newspaper columns by man of the people Hank Fiset start clever but turn grating. 250,000-copy announced first printing. (Oct.)
It turns out that Tom Hanks is also a wise and hilarious writer with an endlessly surprising mind. Damn it.”
“The central quality to Tom’s writing is a kind of poignant playfulness. It’s exactly what you hope from him, except you wish he were sitting in your home, reading it aloud to you, one story at a time.”
“Wait—Tom Hanks can write, too? Funny, moving, deftly surprising stories? That's just swell. Maybe there's no crying in baseball, pal, but it's perfectly acceptable in the book business. That's how we drown envy.”
“Mr. Hanks turns out to be as authentically genuine a Writer with as capital a W as ever touched a typewriter key. The stories in UNCOMMON TYPE range from the hilarious to the deeply touching. They move in period, location and manner, but all demonstrate a joy in writing, a pleasure in communicating an intensely American sense of atmosphere, friendship, life and family that is every bit as smart, engaging and humane as the man himself. All with that extra quality of keenly observant and sympathetic intelligence that has always set Tom Hanks apart. I blink, bubble and boggle in amazed admiration.”
“Uncommon Type is funny, wise, gloriously inventive and humane. Tom Hanks sees inside people – a wary divorcee, a billionaire trading desire for disaster, a boy witnessing his father’s infidelity, a motley crew shooting for the moon – with such acute empathy and good humour we’d follow him anywhere. The cumulative effect is of a world I didn’t want to leave.”
“Reading Tom Hanks's Uncommon Type is like finding out that Alice Munro is also the greatest actress of our time.”
“Seventeen wide-ranging and whimsical stories—with a typewriter tucked into each one. Only one of the stories in Hanks' debut features an actor: it's a sharp satire with priceless insider details about a handsome dope on a press junket in Europe. The other 16 span a surprisingly wide spectrum...Hanks can write the hell out of typing, and his dialogue is excellent, too. Has he read William Saroyan? He should. While these stories have the all-American sweetness, humor, and heart we associate with his screen roles, Hanks writes like a writer, not a movie star.”
“Uncommon Type offers heartfelt charm along with nostalgia for sweeter, simpler times — even if they never really were quite so sweet or simple… Even when Hanks writes about somber subjects like the durable distress of combat or the high stakes for immigrants fleeing persecution, he finds a sweet spot.”
“Ultimately if you like Tom Hanks — and who doesn’t? — you will enjoy Uncommon Type.”
—AM New York
“In Uncommon Type, Hanks proves his bona fides as a serious scribe, producing a collection of 17 short stories so accomplished and delightful he can rest assured he has a great fallback plan should that acting thing, you know, not work out… Terrific, Tom.”
“There is often a powerful sense of other lives imagined at a level that goes deeper than writerly research.”
“Enjoyable..."The Past Is Important to Us” employs a sharp, unexpected conclusion to elevate a story of time travel and romance at the 1939 World’s Fair."
“They’re all beautifully written and full of heart.”From the Publisher
—Sunday Mirror, The People
“Hanks can write. These pieces, some of which feature recurring characters and many of which explore the classic American short story territory of small-town life, have the authentic, worn-in feel of a favourite pair of jeans.”
“The great strengths of this collection are decency and sentimentality.”
“Playful, perceptive and rewarding.”
“An entertaining collection.”
—Mail on Sunday
“There always comes a slight wariness when we discover that someone who is generally renowned for one thing turns out to be very good at something else... But what makes Uncommon Type even harder to dismiss is the silky-smooth momentum and unforced hum that Hanks' writing glides along with here.”
“All American life is here... Delightful... Hanks’s prose is impressive, with a strong voice and stylistic flair…. so fluent, convincing and confident that you forget it belongs to Tom Hanks, movie star. He's just a writer. And he’s going to write a great novel one day.”
“[Unveil[s] the inventive mind behind his regular-guy façade”.
“Tom Hanks is a natural born storyteller… He Belongs to a tradition of American storytellers that includes Mark Twain or O Henry although there is a range of work in Uncommon Type that defies such a catch-all definition.”
Academy Award winner Hanks gives readers a wide variety of stories in this first collection. His characters run the gamut; old and young, rich and poor, male and female, serious and funny. He writes like someone who has paid attention to humans in their many guises. His subjects include time travel (a trip to 1939), space travel (a trip to the moon and back), and memory travel (a World War II battle). In one story, a teenager accidentally learns about his father's infidelity, while in the next, a young boy meets his mother's boyfriend without understanding who he is. Several pieces feature the same characters, creating a feeling of familiarity. In all 17 stories, typewriters figure as part of the landscape, and 14 photographs of typewriters (by Kevin Twomey) accompany various narratives. VERDICT Hanks's stories evoke dreams and flights of imagination that everyone has experienced, making the "what ifs" of life tangible. Highly recommended, and not just for the actor's many fans. [See Prepub Alert, 4/10/17.]—Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence
Seventeen wide-ranging and whimsical stories—with a typewriter tucked into each one.Only one of the stories in Hanks' debut features an actor: it's a sharp satire with priceless insider details about a handsome dope on a press junket in Europe. The other 16 span a surprisingly wide spectrum. There's a recently divorced mom who's desperate to avoid the new neighbor who might be hitting on her; a billionaire inventor who's become addicted to taking time-travel vacations; a World War II veteran whose Christmas Eve 1953 is disturbed by memories of Christmas Eve 1944; a young man who celebrates his 19th birthday by going surfing with his dad; a Bulgarian immigrant literally just off the boat, spending his first few days as a New Yorker. Three stories are editions of a small-town newspaper column called "Our Town Today with Hank Fiset." Three others feature a group of pals named MDash, Anna, Steve Wong, and an unnamed first-person narrator. In one story, the friends go bowling; in another, they go to the moon; in the third, the narrator and Anna try dating for three weeks only to find that "being Anna's boyfriend was like training to be a Navy SEAL while working full-time in an Amazon fulfillment center in the Oklahoma Panhandle in tornado season." Or as Steve Wong puts it, "We are like a TV show with diversity casting. African guy, him. Asian guy, me. Mongrel Caucasoid, you. Strong, determined woman, Anna, who would never let a man define her. You and her pairing off is like a story line from season eleven when the network is trying to keep us on the air." There's a typewriter in every tale, be it IBM Selectric, Royal, Underwood, Hermes 2000, or some other model. Hanks can write the hell out of typing, and his dialogue is excellent, too. Has he read William Saroyan? He should. While these stories have the all-American sweetness, humor, and heart we associate with his screen roles, Hanks writes like a writer, not a movie star.