Over the last few years, Indian publishing has been bombarded with big names from Bollywood. Such book launches, where Twinkle Khanna, Sunny Leone, Karan Johar and Rishi Kapoor shill for their memoirs, autobiographies or short stories, are invariably described as ‘star-studded affairs’.
Whether or not any of them can write, the books sell like hot cakes, and sometimes, the stars surprise with genuine talent. As with Bollywood, so with Hollywood. Steve Martin, Hugh Laurie and others have penned novels, and this month Tom Hanks delivers a collection of 17 short stories called Uncommon Type.
So, can he write? Yes, and better than most people would like to believe. He may not exactly be a literary giant in the making, but he tells a good yarn, writes with a distinct voice and creates believable characters—some of whom crop up in more than one tale. The very first story, ‘Three Exhausting Weeks’, has its characters recur in ‘Alan Bean Plus Four’ and ‘Steve Wong is Perfect’. They are also perhaps some of his best stories. It’s quite easy to imagine the author playing the male protagonist in a TV/ movie adaptation of most of them.
Hanks also experiments with form. The character, Hank Fiset, for instance, is a columnist in a newspaper struggling to survive. He is also, perhaps, the actor-author’s alter ego whose own stories occur in column inches more than once. Hanks draws a great deal from his experiences as an actor. ‘A Junket is the City of Life’ is a fine sample. To US readers, the stories may seem hackneyed. For the rest of us, they can be fresh and engaging.