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In a crowded MBTA train station, Harvard student Sam Masur calls out the name of an estranged childhood friend. “SADIE MIRANDA GREEN,” he shouts, “YOU HAVE DIED OF DYSENTERY.”
So begins Gabrielle Zevin’s “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow,” a novel that follows the lives of video game developers Sam and Sadie over the course of thirty years. Described by Penguin Books as “not a romance, but about love,” the novel is a fascinating and cleverly written exploration of the relationship between two close friends, but it unfortunately struggles with handling its multiple plotlines in the book’s later sections.
After a chance meeting in a hospital as teenagers, Sam and Sadie bonded over their shared love of video games until their friendship reached an abrupt ending. Years later, they meet again in Cambridge, where Sam attends Harvard and Sadie goes to MIT. They begin a partnership, and soon the explosive success of their first video game, “Ichigo,” launches them into the gaming industry.
Zevin weaves several other stories into the novel alongside Sam and Sadie. Flashbacks of Sam’s childhood growing up in L.A. with his grandparents and actress mother are intertwined with Sadie’s memories of volunteering at the hospital where her sister was being treated for cancer. Sam’s college roommate Marx also gets his own storyline, as he navigates being a side character (or NPC, as the book calls him) in the lives of his two closest friends.
It’s a lot of material to juggle in just one novel, and Zevin accomplishes this with skillful dexterity. A book about video games might seem daunting to those who have no knowledge about gaming, but this novel is more about human relationships than it is about video games. And in places where understanding the technical side of video game development becomes necessary, Zevin walks the reader through the process step by step.
The book’s strengths lie in its characters, though, and the plot ultimately takes a backseat to the relationships between its three main characters. Sam, Sadie, and Marx are all realistic and sympathetic characters who one can’t help but root for despite their flaws. Through them, the novel depicts a compassionate portrayal of the messy dynamics of a long, complicated friendship.
Zevin also does a wonderful job immersing the reader in the book’s multiple settings, from L.A.’s Koreatown to Cambridge. Throughout the first half of the book, Zevin’s excellent prose jumps deftly between perspectives and timelines, leading the reader through a sweeping and vividly authentic representation of the places that her characters call home.
Unfortunately, around the halfway point, the book starts to drag. “Tomorrow” is over four hundred pages long, and the plot doesn’t quite justify its length. After Sam and Sadie’s first success with “Ichigo,” the story becomes repetitive. Sam and Sadie release more games and start their own company. They fall in and out of love with various side characters. On a positive note, Sadie’s relationship with Marx has a refreshingly stable arc throughout the entire book, and their romance develops in intriguing and genuine ways.
The book tries to compensate for its flaws by introducing new characters and plots. A subplot about marriage equality in a Sims-like world, an ex-Mormon couple designing a post-apocalyptic video game, and an avant-garde production of “Macbeth” are just a few of these added storylines. While each is interesting on its own, they detract from Sam and Sadie’s story, making the second half feel disjointed.
“Tomorrow” pulls itself together at the end, though. The last fifty pages again show Zevin’s skill as a writer, as she brings together several plot threads to produce a poignant finale. Although the plot meanders on the way to its final destination, it does get there eventually, and the destination is exciting and emotionally satisfying.
One final point of praise is the novel’s approach to representation. Sam and Sadie are both Jewish, and Sam’s mother is Korean-American. Zevin (who is herself Korean and Jewish) integrates her characters’ identities into the novel with nuance and thoughtfulness. The novel touches upon issues such as racism in the performing arts and how dialogues about cultural appropriation rarely make room for artists of mixed-race identity. Sam is also physically disabled from a car accident, and he walks with a cane. Zevin incorporates his experience of living with this disability into the story.
Although its second half struggles with uneven pacing, “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” is worth the read. The book reaches unflinchingly into the messiness of our complex and often mysterious world, joyfully revealing to readers what it means to be human and to be a friend.
—Staff writer Samantha H. Chung can be reached at email@example.com.
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