‘A collection of seveteen wonderful short stories showing that two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks is as talented a writer as he is an actor. A hectic, funny sexual affair between two best friends. A World War II veteran dealing with his emotional and physical scars. A second-rate actor plunged into sudden stardom and a whirlwind press junket. Four friends going to the moon and back in a rocket ship constructed in the backyard. These are just some of the people and situations that Tom Hanks explores in his first work of fiction, a collection of stories that dissects, with great affection, humour and insight, the human condition and all its foibles.’
What to say about this book? Without wanting to sound too harsh…I really did not enjoy it. I won’t say I hated it, because hate is a very strong word, but I certainly wasn’t far from it.
I’m generally not a huge fan of short stories anyway, but I’d been hearing great things about this book so I said I’d give it a chance, and when it arrived in my local library, I snapped it up. The librarian even said that a few friends of his had read it and really enjoyed it so I thought I was on to a winner.
While there is nothing technically wrong with the writing, it is clear that Hanks just knows some big words and he wants to make sure you know it. He is clearly a fan of long, convoluted sentences and used them frequently. And it definitely wasn’t a case of just trying to hit his word count because at seventeen ‘short’ stories, there was definitely more than enough material.
Also – if you didn’t know that he loves typewriters, you will by the time you finish this book. While I have read other reviews that found the mention of typewriters in each story charming, I just found it irritating. I found myself waiting for the mention of them, and rolled my eyes so hard each time that I almost gave myself a headache.
He writes with a sort of olde worlde style – all of the stories have a sort of sepia tone over them, even the ones that are clearly set in the modern day. And we have no doubt that they are in the modern day because Hanks makes sure to throw in mentions of ‘iPhones and apps’ with about as much comfort and ease as my grandfather talks about things like ‘the Netflix and the Tweeter’. The references are just a bit clumsy, and jarring.
While I didn’t enjoy the book as a whole, there were some stories that weren’t too bad. Some of them were actually quite good -I enjoyed the story about Steve Wong and his bowling prowess, and the story about a mother of three who moves to a new home, and can somehow see ‘pops’ of her future, but there were just too many that were nonsensical in a way – the story about four friends building a rocket ship and just taking off to orbit the moon and land back with no problems, or the story about a very modern millionaire who travels back in time to a certain day in 1939, where he meets the love of his life but she can’t remember him because each time he meets her is the first time.
The only theme that connects the stories is the mention of a typewriter in each one, and it’s not a strong enough theme to make the book work, in my opinion. Each story is so different, even when the same characters are used, that jumping from one to the next is a struggle, and by the time you’ve gotten used to the writing style and time frame of one story, it’s over and the next is another struggle all over again.
I’ve said before when mentioning this book before that I feel like Hanks woke up one morning, felt a little bit bored, maybe had no films to shoot that day, and decided to clack away on his typewriter and maybe form a book out of whatever he came up with. He definitely has writing talent, and a way with words, and there were a few of the stories that I feel, if he had spent the time working on them alone, he could have gotten a good book out of. Instead of this mish-mash of odd stories.
Maybe I’m being too harsh, but I really did not enjoy this book. I found myself almost dreading picking it up, but I also felt like I’d invested too much time in it to quit. I wouldn’t recommend it at all, and it would put me off picking up any future works of his.