When Macbeth soliloquises of “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow”, he speaks of the relentlessness and futility of life. When Gabrielle Zevin employs the same words, she speaks of the “possibility of infinite rebirth, infinite redemption” offered by video games. In the virtual world, death is not the end and losing is but a chance to try again; there are endless chances, endless restarts. You do not have to be a gamer to see the appeal.
Zevin is an American author and screenwriter whose other works include the New York Times bestseller The Storied Life of AJ Fikry and award-winning young-adult fiction. The decidedly digital subject matter of her 10th novel, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow – which is being made into a feature film by Paramount – is an unusual one. But playing and reading are natural companions, and Zevin gracefully weaves together the two in language that is pleasingly accessible to non-gamers.
Their relationship is a joining of minds and of worlds that is both purer and sweeter than any base physical attraction
Her story begins around the turn of the century, when two college students, Samson Mazer (mathematics at Harvard) and Sadie Green (computer science at MIT), bump into each other at a train station. The pair haven’t spoken since childhood, when they met in the games room of a hospital – Sadie, visiting her sister; Sam, recovering from the car crash that killed his mother and broke his foot in 27 places – and bonded while playing Super Mario Bros. But theirs is that precious kind of friendship that waxes and wanes but never weakens, and so the encounter at the train station is, inevitably, a point of resumption – and the start of a prolific creative partnership.
This is a boy meets girl story that is never a romance – though it is romantic. When Sam first asks Sadie if she will make a video game with him, he plans an elaborate proposal: “He would be getting down on one knee and saying, ‘Will you work with me?’” They love each other, but never in quite the same way at quite the same time. Their relationship is a joining of minds and of worlds that is both purer and sweeter than any base physical attraction. As Sadie says: “Lovers are common… True collaborators in this life are rare.”
For Sam, whose injured foot becomes a long-term disability, gaming is a particular freedom, divorcing him from his broken, limited body. When he experiences phantom pain, he thinks of it as “a basic error in programming, and he wished he could open up his brain and delete the bad code”. This is just one of many instances in which Zevin blurs the lines between reality and play, the one elucidating the other. In another inspired, abstract section, the story descends entirely into the virtual world, and we follow a new set of characters who exist within a multi-player game called Pioneers. When the narrative zooms out, the game is revealed to be a means of communication – and reconciliation – for its real-life players, Sam and Sadie.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is an artfully balanced novel – charming but never saccharine. The world Zevin has created is textured, expansive and, just like those built by her characters, playful.
Pippa Bailey works for the New Statesman
July 18, 2022 at 11:44AM Pippa Bailey