Straddling Shakespeare and gaming together in a novel about the redemptive possibilities of friendship through tragedy seems a mix hard to keep up with, but it’s one Gabrielle Zevin has managed to present as a perfectly realistic depiction of contemporary American life. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is ultimately about computer gaming and how great it all is to play games and make games, so it’s a harder win for those who thought it was a mindless pursuit for the less gifted: Sam Masur and Sadie Green, the two flawed and brilliant characters at the centre of this book, are the best riposte to that idea.
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Gamers from their birth in the 1980s, Sadie and Sam come together through a shared pain; Sadie’s sister has leukaemia in hospital, and Sam has severed his foot in a car accident. Battered by the reality of the outside world, their solace in gaming is presented convincingly by Zevins’ fluid prose. The friends they do not find outside are made up for by each other and the figments of their different imagined worlds. With smart speed we are introduced to Marx, the lovable, clubbable roommate of Sam when he goes up to Harvard.
Sam and Sadie’s reunion sparks a frenzy of creation: their new company, their successes, their failures, their relationships, breakups, divorces, arguments, silences and pains are all accompanied by the monotonous, insistent desire of them all to game and to make games. Sadie and Sam are tied together by this lifelong bond, and it’s one portrayed with subtlety and affection. These characters are intelligent, cynical, aspirational and firmly grounded all at the same time, even in the grips of adolescent Super Mario contests or ancestral Donkey Kong machines.
If anything, the exposition of these sparkling figures is the most engaging part of this book. Development does not come so easily, and plot covers up for something about Zevin’s creations which wants to stay rooted in childhood, in first impressions, in a sweet innocence which growing up does not allow them any longer. We are certainly made to care about these wonderful, obstinate people, but we feel very differently about them at the end than we did when they first turned up. Their loves, their flaws, their peccadilloes, are all still there. It is the imaginary world of a game, a world Zevin describes with the addict’s ardour, which forms a universe even the sturdiest parent or antediluvian book-lover will be enticed into.
Patrick Maxwell is a writer and journalist