Book Review: Uncommon Type: Some Stories

A funny and creative short fiction debut that’s strong in portraying male characters but thin where the women are concerned

<i>Uncommon Type: Some Stories</i>

When I sat down to read Tom Hanks' debut story collection, its initial bourgeois tone made me squirm a little in my chair. A Hollywood actor's syrupy sweet and self-indulgent voyage into the world of short fiction was a thing I'd just have to endure for the sake of reviewing it. Yet just as I was about to fully settle into disappointment, the book took ahold of me. Again and again, as I made my way through the pages, I found myself unable to stop reading. The stories are creative and funny in a Hanks kind of way. And some cut right down to the bone of human nature. My favorite, "Christmas Eve 1953," uses a melancholy holiday phone conversation between two World War II vets to take the reader back into a foxhole in the Nazi-peppered frozen woods of Belgium. The events described are so visceral, Hanks should have included a disclaimer. That dialogue should be an actor/writer's strong point is perhaps not surprising.

If I had a quibble – and who wants to quibble with the nicest man in show business? – it would be the way Hanks too often treats his female characters as two-dimensional obligations. Where the males are fleshed out to the nth degree, the women are marched out more or less devoid of tangible human qualities. While no doubt (one hopes) the author has actual relationships with actual females in real life, the non-men here are no more than cliched caricatures. We've got the gentle, passive, motherly wife in the story mentioned above, the hot but nutty girlfriend in "Three Exhausting Weeks," the bitter old PR lady and the cruel narcissistic actress in "A Junket in the City of Light," the judgmental and relentlessly critical divorcée in "A Month on Greene Street." The list goes on.

These portraits are all, in their way, worthwhile starting points for characters. The problem is, they never get past the starting point. Let's just say that if this collection were a box of chocolates, the women in it were taken out of the molds before they solidified.

In the end, this wholesome lack of genuine investigation – or comprehension – of the female psyche diminishes the whole enterprise. Surely a man of Mr. Hanks' sophistication must know women are more than the sum of their physiques.

Hanks' ability to write about men and who they are in an array of different circumstances is the mark of an artist. I would have loved to see those stories delve into the lives and minds of women with the same craft and thoughtfulness.

Uncommon Type: Some Stories

by Tom Hanks
Alfred A. Knopf, 416 pp., $26.95

Hanks will discuss Uncommon Type with author Lawrence Wright Sat., Nov. 4, 4:30pm, at First Baptist Church, 901 Trinity. Note: This event requires tickets, and all tickets have been sold.

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