Uncommon Type - Tom Hanks - A Book Review
I just finished reading Tom Hanks', Uncommon Type -- Some Stories, and thought I'd write a review. This is a collection of short stories, all involving some reference to a typewriter, in detail or just fleeting. Most of the typewriters he writes about go clackety-clack and the stories are set in the 1950s to 1970s, some older (just after World War II), and others more recent. Several of my most favorite of his short stories include: Three Exhausting Weeks, A Special Weekend, These are the Meditations of My Heart, and Go See Costas.
In Three Exhausting Weeks, the book's opening story, a laid-back guy falls for his Type-A friend. This is one of the few stories set in recent times and the characters in the story would be back later in Hanks' collection of stories. I was appropriately exhausted while reading about Anna's take-charge, health-conscious personality, who continually says, "Atta Boy!" I almost envisioned Tom Hanks as himself in the story--the boyfriend who would rather sip coffee with hot milk rather than green tea, read a print copy of the Times without thinking about killing trees, eat eggs with Portuguese sausage, maybe a Pop-Tart, and hell, throw back papaya juice, but from the carton! They say that a good test of a relationship is that first big trip together. It either makes or breaks you. I won't say what happens here, but this story was funny. As I think back, I'm not sure where the typewriter reference crops up in this particular short story.
A Special Weekend was written from the perspective of young Kenny Stahl. This one was set in the 1970s so an electric typewriter that hummed was showcased here. I remember my IBM Selectric at work in the 1980s and the typewriter repair man, George David, who had a small shop in downtown Hartford. Young Kenny Stahl's parents were divorced and he was living with his dad in Iron Bend, California when his hot, red-lipsticked Mom appears in a similarly hot Fiat to take him back to Sacramento, the city where he was born and the Hotel Leamington, where each of his parents used to work. He would meet his mom's "friend", Jose, in a kind of "take-your-kid" to work scenario, typing letters to his mom on her electric typewriter. Jose, who had probably been the one who had left his suits hanging in his mom's closet, would take him on a life-changing airplane ride and would treat him like a man. I loved the nostalgia baked into this story, the descriptions of vending machine soda pops, the tiny metallic Hot Wheels, the chocolate Hostess cakes with that curl of white frosting down the middle, the diners with the thick vanilla milkshakes in tall tin cups; how his mom went from waitress to business woman and all the men had "cow" eyes for her. Was she the real reason for the divorce? Was she the reason he was living in Iron Bend with Eucalyptus trees scattering leaves that littered the driveway and the seats of the hot little Fiat his mom had borrowed from Jose? I kept thinking about this particular role reversal, odd for a woman in the 1970s. Hanks just writes and leaves it to the reader to fill in the blanks, which I liked.
These are the Meditations of My Heart was a fun story to read because this was an instruction about the history of the typewriter that Hanks so clearly loves. The protagonist of this short story first buys a low-quality, faded red plastic typewriter that she wants to use, instead of her IPhone, or IPad (or whatever) from a yard sale. When she finds that the keys were all gummed up, she takes it to Detroit Business Machines and meets an elderly storekeeper who sells her The Mercedes-Benz of typewriters--The Hermes 2000 in seafoam green. She would secure a bargain rather than fix her plastic piece of crap! I loved the interaction of the elderly man and younger woman in this story.
Hanks also loves to feature New York City (as well as California) in his stories. In Go See Costas, a refugee from Bulgaria flees to Greece from communist rule in Bulgaria, then secures a job on a ship as a fireman with a chief who turns a blind-eye to his real purpose: sneaking his friend onto the ship, hiding him the entire way, for the purpose of jumping ship in America. This was my favorite story! It's about hope and perseverance and coming to America. It's about other things, also; if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Bargain, and reason with Jim Beam, eat hot dogs with ketchup and mustard, find kind people who will help you, figure out what makes them tick, then you'll thrive. There was a particularly funny short story about NYC called Our Town Today with Hank Fiset - At Loose in the Big Apple ( a hick comes to town!) and a heart-warming story called Who's Who about a would-be actress who finds the right antidote in the city in her gay friend, Bob Roy.
I can't help but think about, and wonder, how the City of Light (and Tom Hanks and his wife) is doing as I write this. I send my thoughts and prayers. If you don't mind reading about people free to be themselves among crowds and not worried about any new novel virus, this would be good reading material for you as you Stay at Home. Stay Safe! P.S. I loved reading these short stories from an American Legend I usually watch on the movie screen. To read his written word, which rivals most authors, is an honor. Read it, you'll love it!
Uncommon Type, by Tom Hanks, a Vintage Book, a division of Penguin Random House LLC