Zevin, Gabrielle. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. Knopf, 2022. ISBN 978-0593321201 416 pp. $28.00
In 2007, when I wrote a book about gaming in libraries, Will Wright was exploring how games could make people feel emotions (like guilt), and the US was slow in recognizing video games as an art form while the UK had already established an award category for video games at BAFTA, while I was arguing they were valid ways of telling a story that involved the player in the creation of that story. Zevin pesents a world where creators set out to make works of art, even based on the style of a famous work of art, in this brilliant, intricately plotted novel about friendship and gaming.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow follows the trajectory of two friends who love one another but never get together. Their partnership at Unfair Games, their video game company, is more important At twelve, Korean-American Sam is recovering from a car accident in the hospital while eleven-year old’s Sadie’s sister Alice is getting cancer treatment. They form a friendship playing Super Mario Bros. and the staff begs Sadie to come back and visit–Sam, coming to terms with his mother’s death and a crippling injury hadn’t spoken until she showed up. She makes him her bat mitzvah volunteer project and wins a community service award from Hadassah. When he finds out, they don’t talk for six years, until he spies her in a subway station–she’s attending MIT and he is at Harvard. Hollering “you have died of dysentery!” gets her attention, and they resume their friendship and eventually talking about designing a game together. His friend and roommate Marx bankrolls an apartment and they name Marx their producer; he takes care of many details for their company, their friendship, their lives. The narrative follows their intertwining paths through the games they design together.
With characters that attend Ivy league schools, the vocabulary is smart and lush: nihilistic, verisimilitude, deictic, obfuscation, jejune, azure, simulacrum, portmanteau, fecund, echt, tautology. The allusions reference The Phantom Tollbooth, Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare, the Illiad… and indirectly, Grand Theft Childhood. The timeline spans nearly twenty years and is set squarely in Generation X, with many familiar touchstones: Tamagotchis, Magic Eye, texting, same-sex marriage, MMORPGs, groundbreaking video game titles, September 11th.
The writing is spectacular and frequently, beautifully profound as the characters reflect on their abilities and disabilities; their identities and ethnicities; love and loss; mazes, puzzles, and maps; immortality and do-overs; art and sex and death and play. The narrative moves back and forth in time and yet never gets lost. So many details come back full circle, like when you die in a game and go back to the save point. Throughout the novel, the narrator breaks the fourth wall, such as when the reader is invited to consider an interview with game designer Sam Mazer in Kotaku. This also allows us to review events through a more modern lens of systemic racism, appropriation, and sexism. Another section goes meta like a game and changes the perspective to second person, playing on interactive text adventures. Another is in third person, narrating the lives of the avatars the characters create. Full disclosure: this book made me weep.
Sometimes the writing reminded me of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, with its detail on coding and debugging akin to the drudgery of magic drills at Brakebills Academy and flawed dynamic characters who stick together no matter what. Sometimes it called to mind Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat, with it’s LA setting and evocative lists of things and strong sensory detail. And as a gamer about to turn 48, who cut her teeth on the Oregon Trail on a classroom’s Apple IIe and Donkey Kong on a cocktail arcade table at the local Papa Gino’s, I kept seeing this as a love letter to gaming that recognizes video games for the art they are.
I checked this out through OverDrive at my local public library and logged onto bookshop.org to order a copy and it’s currently out of print and backordered! I blame Harry and his 2 million copy first print run.