How should one categorize Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (2022)? A mainstream novel shot through with skiffy nerdery? A dual-pronged character study doubling as a fictional history of the video game industry? A platonic, period romance? None of these really work, suggesting conscious genre mash-ups, when in fact there are no specific, conventional genres on display. It’s simply a novel about creativity, collaboration, and friendship, without speculative elements, but making its subject matter so magical and captivating that one can imagine it shelved virtually anywhere in a bookstore, unlikely to disappoint whoever might find it.
The novel’s unforgettable protagonists, Sam Masur and Sadie Green, meet as children in a Los Angeles hospital in the eighties. Sam is recovering from a traumatic car accident that mangled his foot; Sadie is visiting her sister during cancer treatment. The two of them bond in the hospital’s game room at a Super Mario Bros. cabinet, beginning a loving, fraught, complicated friendship that will span decades. After a turbulent falling out, their paths cross again in college when they randomly encounter one another on a Boston subway platform. Sadie is studying computer sciences, and she gives Sam a copy of a video game she designed for class. This kicks off the duo’s collaborative career as game designers, their intense friendship covering many years and locations, against the rapidly changing technological backdrop of their industry.
Pulling back, it seems awfully low concept to be such a successful book. Even so, it’s thoroughly unsurprising it found its way onto the readership’s radar, because it’s a beautifully written, immersive story about two fascinating characters whose lives are fatefully intertwined. The fact that they’re bonded over such an imaginative industry perhaps explains why the book speaks so well to the speculative fiction reader in me, but even someone unfamiliar with the protocols of games or science fiction will likely respond to Zevin’s incredibly effective descriptions of games: their artistry, their immersiveness, the accessible rendering of their technology, and the fascinating, inspired collaborative work that goes into creating them. Meanwhile, the sheer scope and depth of Sam and Sadie’s journey affords all manner of insightful discussion about romantic relationships, friendship, artistic and professional ambition, race, gender, disability, and more, a robust tapestry of context that deepens the core relationship. In a way, it doesn’t sound like much, but in another it feels like a novel about life itself, and how we move through it, individually and with others. An outstanding piece of work, more than the sum of its many glorious parts.