Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin Book Review

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If you haven’t jumped the barrel since Donkey Kong, you might be hesitant to read Gabrielle Zevin’s riveting new novel about video game designers. But don’t worry, you don’t need to wear a VR headset to experience Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. It’s not a novelization of Tron or a homage to Ready Player One. Whether the Oregon Trail makes you think of Francis Parkman’s memoirs or your brother’s Commodore 64, you’re welcome on this journey.

I’m confident in making such a promise because Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is actually a novel about friendship – specifically about that rare, wondrous friend who drifts away for a long time, but always comes back with the power of Sonic the Hedgehog rises.

PRESS PLAY: The story begins at the end of the 20th century when Americans are angry about Y2K and blink expectantly at MagicEye posters. Two college students – Sam Mazer (Harvard) and Sadie Green (MIT) – meet in Cambridge. They haven’t seen each other since they were children in the hospital. In this past life, Sam was recovering from a serious car accident that crushed his foot and Sadie was visiting her sister who was being treated for cancer. With plenty of time on their hands, the two teens bonded over Super Mario Bros., but then they fell out over a painful misunderstanding. (Even Sadie’s computer program apology, written in 15 lines of BASIC code, wasn’t enough to earn Sam’s forgiveness.)

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Over the years, Sadie’s interest in gaming has intensified, and by the time she arrives at MIT, she’s one of the few women in the field – a position that becomes an increasingly interesting subject on Tomorrow. Before long, Sadie attracts the attention of a horny professor, who says, “The American boy wonders who programmed and designed Commander Sharp and demise.” He admires Sadie’s prototype for a highly problematic game called Solution about a Nazi gadget factory. Their program is designed so that the more knowledge players gain, the fewer widgets they can produce, and the more they turn a blind eye, the more successful they become. “Everyone loses,” explains Sadie. “The game is about being complicit.”

Such moral complexity is a hallmark of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, which takes its title from Shakespeare, not Nintendo. But even as she alludes to this pained monologue about the brevity and meaninglessness of life, Zevin has her hand on the joystick. In one moment, she turns Macbeth’s lament into a contrasting celebration of the endless possibilities of rebirth and renewal, the chance to play tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow again. “After all,” Zevin asks, “what is the subtextual engagement of a video game if not the annihilation of mortality?”

The first demonstration of this possibility in the novel is Sadie’s chance to rekindle her shattered friendship with Sam now that they are both college students. The two estranged teenagers finally bond over an edition of Richard Power’s novel Galatea 2.2. “Promise me you’ll always forgive me, and I promise I’ll always forgive you,” Sadie says. And with an aura of prophecy, Sam says, “I see a future where we make amazing games together.”

The tone here is decidedly romantic. “The way he saw it, he would propose to Sadie,” Zevin writes. “He got on one knee and said, ‘Will you work with me?'” But this isn’t really a workplace romance; It’s a novel about the romance of work. Although Sam and Sadie love each other, they are never at the same time in love each other. And that’s clearly the point: Zevin is interested in depicting a creative partnership as intense as a marriage and as strained as a marriage, but confined to the conference room rather than a bedroom. Finally, what is more exceptional in IRL? “Lovers are common,” notes Sadie. “But true co-workers in this life are rare.”

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As the story unfolds, Sam and Sadie become legendary founders of a company called Unfair Games, and questions about whether it’s fair or unfair, who gets the credit, who bears responsibility, and who makes the final decisions swirl outside of the screen Many fans are screaming for more, more, more. Sam and Sadie’s story and their long working relationship gives Zevin plenty of room to explore the tricky issues that arise. “For Sam, size meant it Popular. for Sadie, art.” But add other differences, like Sam’s status as an Asian American, the effects of his physical disability, or a hundred other permutations, and you have an endlessly fascinating MMORPG.

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Zevin offers enticing descriptions of the products Unfair Games develops, and she adds just enough technical detail to make us feel like we understand what a graphics engine does, but she rarely uses the game structure in this conventionally told novel out. This stylistic and formal restraint emphasizes two central chapters even more dramatically. For example, quite late in the book there is a live-action scene that is written in the second person, present tense, which is a tour de force. Mirroring the structure of a shooter game, this chapter is also probably one of the most poignant sections of the novel, a moving demonstration of the combined power of fiction and game.

In her acknowledgment, Zevin describes herself as a “lifelong gamer”. That level of experience could very well have produced a tale of hermetically sealed nostalgia impenetrable to anyone who doesn’t already own a copy of Space Invaders. But instead she has written a novel that will draw any curious reader into the pioneering days of a vast entertainment industry all too often scorned by bookworms. And with the depth and sensitivity of a good novelist, she pleads for the enduring appeal of the flickering screen. “No matter how bad the world gets, there will always be players,” writes Zevin. “Maybe it was the willingness to play that kept you from despair.”

RonCharles reviews and writes books Book club newsletter for the Washington Post.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

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