Book Review: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Knopf
Publication date: July 5, 2022
Print length: 416 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In this exhilarating novel by the best-selling author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry two friends–often in love, but never lovers–come together as creative partners in the world of video game design, where success brings them fame, joy, tragedy, duplicity, and, ultimately, a kind of immortality.

On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is the kind of immersive, powerful read that only comes along once in a great while. I found it moving and profound, and even several days after finishing the book, I’m still caught up in thoughts about its themes and images.

Pretty surprising for a book ostensibly about the world of video games, right?

Sam and Sadie first meet as young teens; Sadie stumbles across Sam in a pediatric hospital where he’s a patient and her sister is undergoing cancer treatment. Sadie doesn’t know anything about Sam other than that he’s dealing with a serious injury to his foot — but she doesn’t need to know much more. He’s playing Mario Kart, and she joins in… and instantly, they find a shared language and joy, as well as an escape from their real lives, by gaming together.

From there, they spend 609 hours together (if you read the book, you’ll find out why this matters), but a secret drives them apart, until they meet once again as college students on a cold day in Boston. Their love of gaming hasn’t changed, and they immediately rekindle their mind-meld connection and begin collaborating on a game. Along with Sam’s roommate Marx, a protective loving boy who decides it’s his mission to look after Sam, they embark on a path that will lead them to huge success and fame.

The book follows Sam and Sadie’s rise to gaming stardom while tracing the impact on their friendship. Their connection goes beyond business partnership or being friends — it’s deep and powerful, and yes, it’s love, but it’s not a romantic connection. They are so deeply entwined that any perceived betrayal or slight is felt all the way to the bone. Sam and Sadie are inextricably connected, but they go through periods of intense conflict and estrangement as well.

Over the course of the years covered by Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, we learn about their backstories, their families, their traumas, and of course, their brilliance. There’s so much to absorb here about culture, wellness and disability, reality and virtual worlds, intelligence and academia, and more. Sadie, Sam, and Marx are unforgettable characters, beautifully described and developed. We know these people and what makes them tick; we understand their joys and their pain, and when bad things happen, it hurts deeply.

The writing is beautiful, often funny, often pensive, filled with oddball characters in a world that many of us (anyone not involved in gaming and coding) may find alien. We’re given entrance into this world through these characters’ experiences, and it’s fascinating.

Maybe it was the willingness to play that hinted at a tender, eternally newborn part in all humans. Maybe it was the willingness to play that kept one from despair.

One element I loved is how the characters’ worldview is coded to the world of games, so that how they view real life is often described in gaming language (and vice versa). For example, a character involved with someone who’s married reflects:

A wife had been mentioned, as had a son. They didn’t have names, and so they weren’t characters to her, but that didn’t mean they didn’t exist.

The virtual vs real world comparisons continue throughout the book, and I found these fascinating:

How do you preserve the impossible to preserve? Or, in other words, how do you stop time and death? […] What, after all, is a video game’s subtextual preoccupation if not the erasure of mortality?

“I’m going to play until the end of this life.”

“That’s a good philosophy.”

He was tired of having to move so carefully, of having to be so careful. He wanted to be able to skip, for God’s sake. He wanted to be Ichigo. He wanted to surf, and ski, and parasail, and fly, and scale mountains and buildings. He wanted to die a million deaths like Ichigo, and no matter what damage was inflicted on his body during the day, he’d wake up tomorrow, new and whole. He wanted Ichigo’s life, a lifetime of endless, immaculate tomorrows, free of mistakes and evidence of having lived.

… [H]e could remember thinking that the best thing about games is that they could be fairer than life.

“I thought you were worried I was going to die,” Sam said.

“No. You’ll never die. And if you ever died, I’d just start the game again,” Sadie said.

As it turned out, in the late fall of 2001, Mapleworld [an online virtual world/game] was exactly what people craved. A virtual world that was better governed, kinder, and more understandable than their own

You are a gaming person, which is to say you are the kind of person who believes that “game over” is a construction. The game is only over if you stop playing. There is always one more life.

“What is a game?” Marx said. “It’s tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. It’s the possibility of infinite rebirth, infinite redemption. The idea that if you keep playing, you could win. No loss is permanent, because nothing is permanent, ever.”

On a more granular level, I was delighted by how many words in this book were new to me! Sometimes, it can be annoying to have to check definitions, but somehow here, I found it eye-opening and challenging, especially in the context of this particular book’s setting and characters. The unfamiliar words tended to be gaming/coding terms that the characters use to express themselves in daily life — it made me feel like I’d entered into their world and been handed yet another insight into how their minds work. (For examples of new-to-me words and their definitions, see below**).

To make a game is to imagine the person playing it.

I wouldn’t have thought I’d love a book that’s ostensibly about video games, or that I’d consider it one of the best books of the year. In fact, I had to give myself a little push to pick up Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow and get started. Thankfully, I’ve read and loved Gabrielle Zevin’s books before this one and trusted that she’d write something I’d want to read!

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is moving and gorgeous, truly a unique reading experience. The author’s creativity and sensitivity shines through on every page. I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time to come.

**A quick, incomplete guide to words I found fascinating in T&T&T:

  • ligneous: made, consisting of, or resembling wood; woody
  • collogue: talk confidentially or conspiratorially
  • mesomorphic: having a compact and muscular body build
  • kenophobia: an intense fear of empty spaces or voids
  • viridescent: greenish or becoming green
  • ludic: showing spontaneous and undirected playfulness
  • deictic: of, relating to, or denoting a word or expression whose meaning is dependent on the context in which it is used, e.g. here, you, me, that one there, next Tuesday
  • jejune: naïve, simplistic, and superficial
  • anfractuous: sinuous or circuitous
  • echt: authentic and typical