Writ­ing ma­chines can be a bit off-key

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

Yes, that’s Tom Hanks the ac­tor. The dual Os­car win­ner. Hanks is a direc­tor, pro­ducer and screen­writer as well, for film and tele­vi­sion. He also owns more than 250 type­writ­ers, most of them in work­ing or­der.

It’s not sur­pris­ing, then, that a typewriter ap­pears in each of the 17 short sto­ries in Hanks’s first book, Un­com­mon Type. Each story is pref­aced with a beau­ti­fully lit pho­to­graph of the typewriter, shot by Kevin Twomey. But the writ­ing ma­chine theme is more of a gimmick than a de­vice. Most sto­ries could lose them with no ef­fect on the plot.

I’m more of a typewriter en­thu­si­ast than a Hanks fan. He’s a great char­ac­ter ac­tor but I find his “Hol­ly­wood’s nicest guy” per­sona mildly ir­ri­tat­ing. The thought of 350 pages of “life is like a box of choco­lates” is my idea of slow tor­ture.

The whole book is not full of home truths but there are more than enough. A chair is “so soft it put the z in cozy”. Char­ac­ters ex­claim “holy cow!” and “yowza!”. There are lash­ings of cook­ies and milk, per­fectly mea­sured wedges of pie, and moth­ers af­fec­tion­ately watch­ing from the kitchen win­dow as boys play T-ball and girls ride pink bikes. I can’t help hear­ing these sto­ries nar­rated by Woody from Toy Story.

Which is a prob­lem when it comes to clum­sily writ­ten sex scenes. I cringe hear­ing Woody nar­rate that a lover “reached into my pants with­out so much as kiss­ing me”, then “let me reach into her pants as well […] we kissed a lot and touched each other in our won­der­ful places”.

Hanks is at his best writ­ing from the per­spec­tive of chil­dren ne­go­ti­at­ing the adult world. In A Spe­cial Week­end, Kenny’s mum leaves her three chil­dren to be raised by their fa­ther and his new wife. She re­turns to take Kenny away to cel­e­brate his 10th birth­day.

See­ing her through Kenny’s eyes as she lights long, thin cig­a­rettes in the red Fiat con­vert­ible bor­rowed from a friend and is chat­ted up by the gas sta­tion at­ten­dant and given the greasy eye­ball by “all the men trav­el­ers” in the diner, we see a boy in awe of a mother who is a stranger to him. “She looked like a sec­re­tary in a TV show — pro­fes­sion­ally dressed, wear­ing heels, her trim black hair neat, her makeup show­ing red lips that left marks on her cof­fee cup.”

It is a rare mo­ment in which Hanks writes a fe­male char­ac­ter with depth. Kenny asks to drive past the old fam­ily home, which his mother does in silent dread: “un­hap­pi­ness also lin­gered in the cor­ners of the place, ar­gu­ments sure to be echo­ing still, a lone­li­ness that haunted the nights af­ter the kids were asleep as well as the days when they were a mad­den­ing hand­ful”. Kenny’s week­end with his mother is an un­usual and bit­ter­sweet en­counter.

Wel­come to Mars is a com­ing-of-age story that re­veals a piv­otal mo­ment in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Kirk Ullen and his fa­ther, Frank.

To cel­e­brate Kirk’s 19th birth­day, fa­ther and son go on an early morn­ing surf. Their ban­ter is brusque but af­fec­tion­ate. The story jumps back and forth in time, revealing changes in Kirk and Frank against the back­drop of the chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

This, too, is a bit­ter­sweet ac­count of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween par­ent and child. But it’s also a boys-club story where women are marginalised. Kirk loves his mother and sis­ter “as dearly as life

Tom Hanks owns more than 250 type­writ­ers, most in work­ing or­der

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.