Gabrielle Zevin

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Annotated by:
Trachtman, Howard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel


Among the many binaries that can be used to describe people, an easily observable one is how seriously they take the games they play. There are those who play basketball or Scrabble to simply relax and enjoy the camaraderie of their playmates. And then there are others for whom games are invested with considerably more significance, where winning in rotisserie baseball or a golf match becomes a statement about their core values, the meaning of life itself. Gabrielle Zevin’s wonderfully engaging novel, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, is dedicated to those who proudly include themselves in the latter category.

The novel spans nearly thirty years and centers on three exquisitely drawn characters who are brilliant and appealing and whose raison d’etre is to design and promote the best computer games. Sam and Sadie are intellectual outliers from vastly different backgrounds. Sam’s Korean single parent mother is an actress wannabe, and he is actually raised by loving grandparents who own a pizza store in Koreatown in Los Angeles, while Sadie grows up in a supportive family of high achieving professionals.  They meet by chance while Sadie is in junior high school. As part of her required community service, she visits Sam while he is hospitalized to treat a horrific leg injury (I am leaving out crucial details about how that happened). Sadie is drawn to Sam – her  more than 900 hours of visits break the record of service time donated – and he in turn is able to overcome the chronic pain he endures and to open himself up to someone else.

A genuine bond is forged between the young adolescents that resurfaces a few years later when they bump into each other unexpectedly in a Cambridge subway station. Sam is a student at Harvard and Sadie is studying at MIT. They are both computer geniuses and in the early 1990s there is no better way to leverage their knowledge than to design innovative and complicated computer games. They are able to program games that combine literary structure, musical background, and state-of-the-art color graphics in the service of a narrative environment that  challenges the intelligence and sustains the interest of the player. Joined by a common friend, Marx Watanabe, Sam’s roommate at Harvard, who becomes their devoted and creative producer, they develop a game called Ichigo, a tale of a child lost at sea who must find his/her (a key part of the game) way home. The game is based on the famous wood block print, “The Great Wave” by Hokusai and becomes an international bestseller. They are vaulted into the world of the rich and famous.

The novel chronicles their professional struggles over the following decade to maintain the same high level of creativity and mass appeal. Conflicts arise about assigning credit for their creations and dividing up the public accolades and recognition. There are the expected strains that are bound to develop in such a closely knit team of creative collaborators who are working 24-hour days to meet unrealistic production deadlines. And of course, there are complicated interpersonal relationships that develop that in such a high-pressure workplace. There is true joy, but it is always mixed with intense feelings of envy and nostalgia for simpler times. Other partners and love interests enter the story. But among this intriguing cast of characters, Sam is singularly complex, and his leg  injury and chronic disability are crucial elements in the plot; he suffers from severe phantom limb pain and ultimately he is forced to have his damaged lower leg amputated. How he copes with his disability, real and imagined, alters the arc of the story to a significant degree. Sam cannot escape his feelings of being an outsider, even as he feels himself drawn to Sadie. The imaginary computer game world leaks into reality. Violence dramatically intervenes in the story and ineradicably alters the course of events (no spoiler alert). The novel that focuses on the creation of a virtual reality has a lived-in texture and fullness. I anticipate that most readers will find the ending to be satisfying, an exquisite expression of the complexity of human fate and interpersonal relationships.

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