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New Yorker Fiction Review: "Alan Bean Plus Four" by Tom Hanks


Issue: Oct. 27, 2014

Story: "Alan Bean Plus Four"

Author: Tom Hanks

Rating: Meh

Review: First off, let's get a few things out of the way: Yes, it's that Tom Hanks, and No, the story is not that good.

After my little Murakami love-fest last week, I'm all out of celebrity author worship. Which is good, because I absolutely love the actor Tom Hanks and, had this story hit me at another time, I could envision a situation in which (while not exactly gushing about it (cause, it's not that remarkable)) I might have gone a little softer on "Alan Bean Plus Four." And I'm glad of that because, frankly, actors who make $30 million per year don't deserve free passes.

Channeling his Apollo 13 days (I guess), "Alan Bean Plus Four" is a tonge-in-cheek comedy that tells the story of a DIY space flight conducted in a scrapped Apollo era space capsule. The narrator talks of how much technology has changed since 1969 and how relatively easy it is to get to the moon today, citing statistics like the oft-quoted and mis-quoted one about how modern-day smart phones are 100,000 times (or however many) more powerful that the computers that were on the first manned space flights, about his theory that if you could throw a hammer hard enough it would break the earth's atmosphere and circle the moon...he intends to do in the Alan Bean, as he's so-named his spacecraft. With modern day smart-phone and GPS technology, plotting the Alan Bean's course around the moon is as easy as finding one's way to the nearest IKEA store. There's even an app for finding one's exact location on the far side (not the dark side, he's eager to note) of the moon.

At best...and I do mean at best..."Alan Bean Plus Four" is cute, and I'm not a big fan of "cute" as concerns anything except clumsy baby animals, airplane liquor bottles, and 25-year-old actresses named Emma. When it comes to fiction from world renowned, A-list actors who, to my knowledge, have never had any other pieces of fiction published and are taking up valuable NYer space from some other talented newcomers whose careers could receive a priceless boon from an appearance in the magazine or -- at the very, very least -- established, well-known writers on the down-slope of their careers mailing in whatever piece of dreck they've picked up off their computer and decided to mail in to satisfy their contracted "story-per-year" quota.

But...when it comes to the media game, when you're Tom Hanks, you do what you want to do, when you want to do it. If he wanted to write, produce, direct, and star in an entire 8-season T.V. show called Tom Hanks, he could do it. Write a book? Get a short story published in the NYer? Please. He's building sand-castles here. Little cabins made out of sticks.

If I sit down to read a short story by Tom Hanks I don't want to read some drivel he's been tinkering with in the mornings, writing on his little yellow legal pad while his servants bring him breakfast in bed, giggling as he imagines reading it to his wife later. I want a big, fire-breathing dragon of a story. I want something that makes me say, "Jeezus...this guy's got talent." Not that makes me say, "Jeeze...this guy should stick to his day job." Which is...being the charming, funny, relatable, perfectly regular, Mr. American Everyman in films; the guy who gives all us tubby, regular guys out here someone to look up to.

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