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Entertaining, yet saccharine – Margaret von Klemperer reviews Tom Hanks’s Uncommon Type

Published in the Witness (21/02/2018)

Uncommon Type
Tom Hanks

William Heinemann Ltd

TOM Hanks has what I hope is a deserved reputation as Hollywood’s Mr Nice Guy, making him probably the most unlikely person there to be outed as yet another of the industry’s serial gropers.

It’s hard to even imagine him playing a villain, though apparently he did once play Proteus in Two Gentlemen of Verona. Now that he has turned his hand to fiction with this collection of short stories it would be pointless to expect anything dark or villainous here. Hanks is no Roald Dahl.

Apparently he is a collector of old typewriters – I can’t imagine why anyone would want to do that and they must take up a lot of room, even if you have a Hollywood-style mansion – but never mind. Typewriters provide a tenuous connection between the stories, featuring more prominently in some than in others, but getting at least a mention in all of them. And some of the characters also appear more than once.

The two best stories have a hint of sci-fi about them. One, “Back from Back in Time”, deals with time travel, back to the World’s Fair in 1939. It is the only story in the collection that doesn’t have an entirely upbeat ending, of which more later.

The other, “Alan Bean Plus Four”, has four friends (who turn up in several of the stories) building a rocket in the back yard and setting off on a mildly hilarious trip round the moon, and back.

Obviously the publisher reckons that the author’s name will sell the book. Fair enough. There are plenty worse things being published, and as long as the reader treats this as something to dip into, rather than settle down to read from cover to cover, Uncommon Type offers entertainment. But the relentless happy endings do begin to pall. It’s a bit like living on an unvaried diet of lemon meringue pie – or watching endless re-runs of Forrest Gump. Once is fine, but something a little darker or more astringent would be welcome.

Just a bit less Mr Nice Guy to add some bite.

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