Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

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“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” are the opening words in Shakespeare’s soliloquy on the futility of life by Macbeth in Act V, Scene V of the play. They are also the title of Gabrielle Zevin’s newest novel and her take on this famous nihilistic belief from a gamer’s perspective. Her take is radically different.

Sam Masur, later Mazer, and Sadie Green meet as teenagers at a children’s hospital where Sam is recovering from foot surgery following a horrific car accident. Sadie is accompanying her sister, Alice, who is fighting cancer. Sam is a gamer. The nurses are impressed that Sam, who hasn’t spoken since the car accident that killed his mother and injured him, not only speaks with Sadie but enjoys playing video games with her. They urge Sadie to continue coming to play with Sam, which she does. However, when Sam finds out that Sadie also used this time and his friendship as a community service project for her Bat Mitzvah, he feels betrayed. He breaks up with her, and they don’t speak again until years later when they accidentally meet in a train station in Boston. Sam goes to Harvard, and Sadie goes to MIT. Sadie gives Sam a copy of a project she is working on for a gaming seminar. Sam and his roommate, Marx, play the game. Then Sam contacts Sadie with his comments, and the two friends once again fall into the easy companionship they had as fellow gamers in the hospital.

When the semester ends, Sam and Sadie spend the summer before their senior year working on a new game with the help of Marx. Sadie is the designer and main programmer, Sam is the artist, and Marx the producer. Even Sadie’s old boyfriend, Dov, becomes involved since Sadie asks him for his game engine, Ulysses. After the success of Sadie’s newest game, Ichigo, the pair find themselves successful, rich and at the top of the gaming industry the year before they graduate college. Thus begins a 30-year collaboration of game design and of friendship.

Zevin defines games as a “possibility of infinite rebirth, infinite redemption.” Nothing is ever final. Unlike life, the gamer can restart the game and try for a different ending. Zevin has roughly divided the novel into sections centered on the game the main characters are developing at the time. Using the games as the focus of the section, Zevin is able to develop the characters and their love interests casually. Yet, the development of the love story is anything but casual. Sadie has several love interests throughout the novel while Sam is unable to break through the shell he created around himself after his accident. The novel concentrates on their friendship, never on their love story, which is what the novel is really about.

Sam and Sadie profess to love each other, but somehow they are never able to fall into a mature romantic relationship. They have endless opportunities to do so, but Sadie says, “Lovers are…common. True collaborators in this life are rare.” For most of the novel this sophism holds true, but at the end, one wonders what is behind the third door.

The setting of the novel against the background of games, game design and gamers gives the novel a unique perspective. Gamers flit between reality and virtual worlds. Only the best games seem to be able to integrate the two worlds creatively into a seamless meld of the two. This is Sadie’s genius. She has the ability to take the mundane and create a game that challenges gamers to enter her world. In Ichigo, the challenge is to return Ichigo to her village after a tidal wave washes her away. In Master of Revels, Sadie creates a game about the murder of Christopher Marlowe. Each is distinctive; each one is cleverly conceived; neither is a shoot-em-up.

Gabrielle Zevin, a gamer herself, has written nine previous novels including ones for younger readers. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow is probably her most ambitious project. The novel’s themes include the problems of identity, especially biracial identity, living with a disability, loneliness, depression, success followed by failure, and especially friendship and love. It’s a lot to pack into one novel, and at times the novel seems to drag because of it. Nevertheless, for the most part, Zevin is adroit in tying all the threads together into a cogent story. For the average reader, the story of Sam and Sadie is compelling and offers much insight into the world of gaming, love and friendship. For gamers, this is a must read.