Book Club

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin Book Review.

By: Jen Shoop

Alert: This Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow book review contains spoilers.

Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a story of creative kinship between two gamers, Sam and Sadie, whom we meet as children and follow through their quarterlives. There are moments in which you think the two protagonists might turn lovers, and there is even a slightly titillating will-they-won’t-they energy that Zevin courts, but Sadie (and, it is to be assumed, Zevin) asserts: romantic relationships are “common,” while “true collaborators in this life are rare.” The fact that this message supersedes all else in this complicated, dark, expansive plot is a feat in and of itself, and an interesting “talk back” to convention. Though we are well beyond the era of “the marriage plot,” the book seems dead-set, even slightly elbows-out, about the fact that this is not a love story, and still, I wondered the entire time whether Sadie and Sam would end up together. What this says about how we have been conditioned, as readers, is interesting, especially given that the title of the book draws from Shakespeare, master of romance and key forebear to the genre writ large. Yet the title has been fully appropriated, de-contextualized from its original intent. In Macbeth, the protagonist’s “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow / creeps in this petty pace” soliloquy laments the meaninglessness of life. Macbeth has just learned of the death of this wife, and is in despair. Though Zevin cites the referenced Shakespeare passage explicitly through conversation between her characters, she makes clear that, in this case, “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” is about the infinite do-overs of play. There is always a “start over” option in which we might go back and begin again.

The sad truth, though, is that life does not actually operate in this way. In fact, there are so many traumatic happenings in this book that result in ghastly and permanent outcomes that the characters’ obsession with the gaming presents as a coping mechanism. As a child, Sam witnesses a suicide, and then his mother dies in a horrific car accident next to him that leaves him maimed to such a horrific degree that he must eventually have his foot amputated. Later, a critical and lovable supporting character, Marx, dies after a shocking act of gun violence. These are plot events of the most macabre imagining.

Zevin doesn’t fully resolve the dissonance there. In fact, the third person omniscient narrator seems to hover unflinchingly, matter-of-factly, above these happenings, assigning less significance to them than, in my opinion, the mechanics of game play and the mad magic of creating them. In passages focused on the latter, the characters truly shine. I say this because when I think of Sam and Sadie, I think mainly of their brilliance while collaborating. I think principally of their spars over the marketing of the game, the way in which they find and console one another while playing games, their undying attraction to these other worlds they have built. I think much less about the traumas they navigate. And so, even from a rhetorical standpoint, the novel seems to enshrine connection through play and imagination as the ultimate achievement. It promises redemption and rebirth. The rest is, well, details. Pixels. Dust.

Zevin is a meticulous writer. The diction alone blew my mind. Susurrus! She uses the word susurrus! But there is so much more. For one thing, I loved the way the narrative structure borrowed elements of gaming. For example, she often interrupts the chronological flow of the story to return to a previous plot point as experienced by another character. The non-linearity reminded me of game play, in which you might “save” at a certain point of the game to return to it later, or start over, or start a particular challenge over, or — say — switch roles mid-session. On this last point: I appreciated the friction she builds between points of view. Sadie, as an example, appears to deduce the wrong conclusion from the discovery of a game on which her former lover had written her a note. She believes Sam read this note, immediately understood that Sadie was dating this man, and insisted she beg him for the right to use his game engine — using her as a pawn, or a sacrificial lamb, to achieve success in the design of a new game. As it turns out, this is not true — or at least, Sam (corroborated by Marx) say it is not. There are many moments in the story like this, when the characters strain to understand, and often misread, one another, and we are only given a fuller view of the interaction when the narrator “hands the joystick over” to the other character, (e.g., we gain omniscience at key moments). It feels a bit like Zevin is lording this over us, feeding us tidbits of key information at strategic checkpoints, which is to say — she writes this book very much as a game designer might structure a game. There is a deliberate sequencing and leveling up. You might argue that all books operate according to this general sequentiality, but there is something italicized about it here. Zevin goes so far as to have her characters directly discuss the ways in which gamers are artists, and it is impossible not to think, therefore, about the construction of the novel in similar terms.

This book is wildly creative; I’ve never read anything like it. I marvel at the expansiveness of the plot, of the way the prose dapples light and loose atop the atrocious tragedies that befall its characters. It is a marvel of construction and ingenuity from a narrative standpoint alone, and there is also the fact that her characters are gorgeous, drawn with stirring care and intimacy and roundness.

This is the most inventive, pleasurable book I’ve read in recent memory.

What did you think?

Book Club Questions for Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin.

What do you make of Marx’s character? Is he a foil? Why is he such a prominent “third party” in a story that makes much of the “creative friendship” between Sam and Sadie?

The novel engages with themes of “belonging” (or, put more accurately, not belonging): Sadie as one of the few females in her MIT program, Sam and Marx as mixed-race Asian-Americans, Sam as an amputee. What are we to make of exclusion/inclusion in the novel?

Why does Marx die? What does his death achieve in the novel?

What did you make of the chapter in which we are immersed in the game Sam has designed, following the characters? Did this chapter disrupt the narrative? Did it add something?

What do you think Zevin is saying about players and games?


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Shopping Break.

+All the books on my radar at the moment here. (What are you reading?)

+The swimsuit we are all buying.

+Over time, I have come to really love crossbody bags. They are probably my most-worn daily shape because you don’t have to fuss with the straps, and they are big enough to hold all essentials. J. Crew has a new one out in a pretty blue hue.

+These slides are chic! And $60! More Zara finds here.

+RMS Beauty just launched a new lip product that is intriguing me. If you’ve not yet tried their living luminizer, you MUST! It is exceptional!

+Two fun, well-priced casual coats if you’re jonesing for something new but don’t want a big investment as we’re midway through the season: this Orolay and this teddy pullover.

+Love a statement sweatshirt. This one is on my lust list.

+Happy stripes for littles!

+New name to know in cool kicks: Autry.

+Speaking of kicks, did you know your little one can also wear 327s?!

+Cute white pants for spring.

+ICYMI: this dress looks a lot like one from Ulla J but costs $120.

+These personalized birthday crowns are impossibly sweet.

+A fab statement topper on super sale.

+WOW. This shoe.

+Has anyone tried the “iconically soft” t-shirts from Sold Out NYC?

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10 thoughts on “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin Book Review.

  1. Your review is far more articulate than my thoughts after reading this book, but I also LOVED it. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of modern day gaming with the machinations + plot devices of Shakespearean-style tragedy (tragicomedy?). I adored the expansive vocabulary, especially as I read this on a Kindle so had the dictionary at the ready (my ‘susurrus’ was ”grok’; I still think of this word at odd times). I also thought that Zevin took character development to an entirely different level than most authors. It felt like Sadie, Sam & Marx were totally 3 dimensional sentient beings rather than just characters on a page. But the thing from this novel that I continue to come back to is the game that Sadie developed as part of her college class. It was diabolically simple yet so effective in making a point not only about Nazism but the rampant anti-Semitic rhetoric that continues to exist today (among other xenophobia at large).

    1. Completely agree with all of these insights, especially your note about the unusual (and compelling, beautiful!) roundness of these characters. She really lets her characters breathe, fail, be selfish, doubt themselves and their friends, etc. It is all so deeply relatable and real.

      Agree, too, with your assessment of Sadie’s brilliant game and the invocation of the tragicomedy genre!

      Just masterful!


  2. Catching up on a bunch of posts and was so glad to see your review of this book! It was one of my top reads last year – I found myself thinking back to the story for weeks afterwards. I hadn’t even considered the narrative structure/gamer experience parallel, but WOW. Yes. My husband occasionally plays video games as a stress release and among many other takeaways, I found myself with an incredible an appreciation for the design and development of the medium. Truly such a unique framework for the plot and character development.

  3. I really enjoyed the thoughtfulness of your review. I also read and really enjoyed this book, but your review has really captured my feelings about the book in complete thoughts and actually made me realize I may have enjoyed the book more than I thought! Completely agree this is one of the more unique, engaging and creative books I’ve read in awhile. I’m now interested in reading the author’s other book!

    1. Hi Sofia! Candidly, sitting down to write this review was challenging — I felt like I was drinking from a fire hose! I didn’t even know where to begin or how to organize my meandering thoughts into something semi-sequential, which — on further reflection — is more of a testament to Zevin than anything else. This book is rich, complex. So many threads to tug on. Anyway, glad this partial review strummed some familiar chords for you!


  4. Oh my – I loved this book! I’m so happy to hear your take on it. Some scattershot thoughts…

    I really appreciate that Zevin looks at an intense friendship/collaboration as a relationship of love and passion even without romance. Portraits of friendships are rarer but perhaps more relatable in many ways. Your point about the miscommunications and misreadings among the closest friends is a good observation. They don’t always give each other the benefit of the doubt, and something about that seems very real and human to me. She crafts the main characters so that they’re unlikable for lengths of time, giving both Sam and Sadie the opportunities to act their worst and be the hero. It gives them a lot of humanity.

    I’m not a gamer personally, but Zevin’s refusal to justify gaming as an art form impressed me. She forces the reader to accept it as such, and it made me appreciate the craft of creating a game and understand why gamers love to play. I agree re: the stunning creativity!

    Finally, for Marx. Your thoughts on Shakespeare make me wonder if he’s meant to be like one of the memorable and tragic secondary characters in a play. Mercutio and Ophelia came to mind. Zevin makes a lot of theater and the idea of roles, sets, and story arcs (and theater’s parallels with video games). Marx was never cast as the main character but seems to have always been the fan favorite.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and prompting me to think back one of my favorite recent reads!

    1. I love these insights, especially re: Marx and tragic secondary characters. So astute, and I think there is certainly a subtext of the theatrical as you mentioned.

      Also COMPLETELY agree about her shrugging — not even shrugging! — insistence that games are art. It’s almost like a pre-negotiated given. I respected that, too.


  5. Love your review. This is one of the most unique books I’ve read in ages. Do you the song, goodbye until tomorrow, from the musical The Last Five Years? I had it stuck in my head while reading this book.

    That musical by the way is fairly sapppy and while the film was not a favourite I’ve listened and come to love all the songs since I watched it whenever it came out.

    Yay for a great book!

    1. I agree — one of the most unique books I’ve ever read. Completely transportive! Haven’t seen that musical, but can see the message reminding you of this novel!


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