Sunday, August 12, 2018

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks, reviewed by Debra Porter

Published by Knopf Canada, October 2017. Available  in hard cover for $20.37; in Kobo e-book for $12.99; audio for $14.99 here.

I just finished Tom Hanks’ book of short stories. I’m a big fan of his, both as an actor and a human being, so I was anxious to see if it was any good. Short stories are also my favourite genre to write, which made me doubly curious.
The book title is completely apt. Not only are they good, unique stories, they range from being set in the 1950s to several years in the future, and each story mentions a typewriter. Sometimes it’s crucial to the plot, but more often you just catch the reference in passing. It took me a few stories to notice.
I enjoyed “Uncommon Type” as an audio book read by the author and felt this was the ideal way to experience it. When books are read by the authors, I get a much better sense of the message they want to get across.
The stories could be enjoyed as stand alone pieces, but there were some linked ones, starting from the first story, “Three Exhausting Weeks.” There were four characters introduced here that recur twice more in the book, MDash, Anna, Steve Wong and an unnamed narrator. They also appear in “Alan Bean Plus Four” and “Steve Wong is Perfect.”
I felt the weakest of these was, “Alan Bean Plus Four.” It speaks to Hank's well know obsession with all things space related, but I couldn’t summon up the suspension of disbelief required to truly enjoy this one.
On the other hand, I did like “Steve Wong is Perfect” and it is set in various bowling alleys which are not places where I would expect a short story to receive life.
 The other linked pieces, “Our Town Today by Hank Fiset” are formatted like newspaper columns. They were enjoyable and provided a breather on a couple of levels. The rest of the stories were quite long and some dealt with difficult circumstances; these ones were lighter in tone and shorter.
If I were to try to pick a favourite, it would be a draw between “A Special Weekend” and “A Month on Greene Street.” Totally different perspectives, an almost 10-year-old boy and a newly divorced single Mom, but they were quiet, character-driven works.
An added attraction to the audio version of the book was the final piece, “Stay With Us.” It was set up as a radio program rather than a short story read by Hanks. He incorporated other actors playing the characters,  including Peter Scolari, Holland Taylor, Peter Gerety and Wilmer Valderrama.
Overall, I thought this collection was strong, Hanks touched on themes of love, betrayal, family, war and where we might evolve as humans in the future. He also wrote from various points of view including both male and female at different stages of life.
Some of the stories were humorous, some were straight up drama, others a blend of the two, but they were good examples of the short story genre.

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Debra Porter has been writing short stories for several years, but thought she’d try something different, hence this book review, her first. Debra is looking to further branch out when she takes Brian Henry’s “Writing Personal Stories” course starting in October.

See Brian’s complete current schedule here
including writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, New Tecumseth, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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