Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Zevin, Gabrielle

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Trachtman, Howard
  • Date of entry: Dec-12-2022


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.


I am not a computer person by nature. I am virtually computer illiterate, and I still read more things on paper than online. When I picked up the book, even though I was told that it was terrific, I was skeptical that a novel about gamers would be in my reading power zone. But I was inexorably drawn into the literary world populated by beautifully drawn characters who confront the perennial problems that confront people regardless of where and when they live. In that regard, I think Zevin has authored a wonderful novel worthy of all the advance praise it has received.

The characters are unique and talented, and one might wonder whether their story would have general appeal. That said, Zevin has an extraordinary capacity to draw full-bodied characters whose lived experiences and emotional breadth seem to achieve a three-dimensional quality. Zevin’s narrative of gamers is a rebuttal to the gloomy outlook articulated by Macbeth in the speech that is the source for the title of the book. Despite professional disappointments and personal losses, Sam and Sadie never fall victim to a sense that their lives are meaningless or that their efforts are futile. There are no color graphics or music that accompany her book, but I suspect that reading Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow is about as close as reading a novel can be to playing a sophisticated computer game like Sam and Sadie’s creation, Ichigo.

What makes the book especially resonant is the use of games as the central motif. Even I play Code Names and word games, though with marginal skill. The centrality of games as a key aspect of human behavior has emerged in a wide range of fields over the last 50 years. Game theory is an intellectual discipline that has been invoked to explain how leaders may react to the threat of nuclear war or how people  behave when confronted by choices in the marketplace. Ludwig Wittgenstein went one step further by positing that language emerges from the behavior of people interacting and communicating with one another, what he called language games. Zevin acutely captures how much of our social activity is governed by unspoken rules and regulations and definitions of winning and losing. The picture she draws is of people participating in a variety of games depending on what they are doing and where they are doing it, making love or a business presentation. But Zevin goes even  further by invoking games as emblematic of how human beings grapple with the unexpected challenges of life – the triumphs and the tragedies.

It is true that games are often dismissed as a waste of time and not taken seriously. Computer games, in particular, can be viewed as an escape from reality, a retreat to a safer place where things are controlled by simply modifying the computer code. But Sam and Sadie articulate something different that makes sophisticated games so appealing to the gamer: regardless of the outcome of the game, one can turn it off, return to the starting point, and try again to reach the ultimate goal of the game. Novels can also create an imaginary world that can be changed with the stroke of a pen or computer key. But literary works cannot recreate the regenerative dynamism of games. Disappointments and heartbreak are unavoidable in life. But the gamer retains an optimism that things do not always have to end badly. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow does not offer a Panglossian view that everything is always for the best. But for this reader, it is infused by the gamer’s optimism that we can continue to try to get it right, in our interpersonal relationships and our interactions with the world. It has motivated me to reach out to my 13-year-old grandson and to ask him to introduce me to computer games.


Alfred Knopf and Co.

Place Published

New York



Page Count