A thought-provoking novel about friendship and our misperceptions of others’ inner lives
On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.
Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.
Gabrielle Zevin’s latest novel has been the recipient of a fair amount of pre-publication buzz, so I was very happy to received a review copy a little while back. The synopsis had caught my attention, and what I found was an interesting, nuanced, and thoughtful examination of friendship, jealousy, and misperception. I enjoyed this quite a bit.
This is, in so many ways, a novel about the damage that one person’s mental health issues can wreak on those around you. Both Sam and Sadie have various issues with which they are grappling — often rooted in similar areas (self-esteem, for example), but born of very different experiences and circumstances. The bulk of the novel is told from their perspectives, with just a few from the perspective of their loyal friend and eventual producer, Marx. Over the course of the book, we learn of Sam and Sadie’s childhood connection and friendship, their break, and their reunion at college. The novel covers a fair bit of time, as they eventually come to work together and forge a successful, if rocky, professional and personal relationship.
If there’s one thing that some readers might struggle with the novel, it’s that Sam and Sadie come across as fundamentally unlikable, depending on a chapter’s perspective. The alternating P.O.V.s do so much to explain the characters’ interior lives and monologues, and illustrate how stunted Sam and Sadie are as a result of their insecurities. Everyone’s the hero, or villain, depending on which angle you approach events. There are moments when the miscommunication is quite tragic, while at others it’s clear that one of them is just clearly being a dick. Zevin deftly handles this with nuance and sprinkles in plenty of tender moments to offset the more combative sections.
Marx is perhaps the only truly decent character in the book. He is belittled and dismissed at different times over the course of their friendship and working relationship. Sam, for example, bitter over certain developments between the three of them, refers to him as an “NPC” and also a “tamer of horses”;(dismissing him with a reference to the ending of The Odyssey, because Sam believes it to be “boring” (personally, I prefer Marx’s interpretation: “breaker of horses”). In many ways, Marx is actually the protagonist and hero. He is fundamentally good, the heart of the group and the story, he holds the friendships together, weathering plenty of storms and bringing out the best in Sam and Sadie. Unfortunately, those two are not fully capable of realizing Marx’s value and decency. [Side note, because I don’t want to spoil anything: Part VII one of the best portions of a novel I’ve read in a while.]
The first half of the novel was superb — for a novel that’s quite gently paced, I zipped through the first half or so, Zevin’s writing and story pulling me through. The momentum started to flag a bit in the second half, but I was never moved to give up. (Work also started eating quite a bit into my reading time when I got to the final third or so, so my focus became more disrupted — this likely had some effect on my reading experience.) Zevin is a great storyteller, and her characters are very well drawn. I do wonder how the video game components might go over with a wider audience — however, the author does a great job of giving readers just enough to understand the significance of certain references and passages, while leaving plenty in for enthusiasts who might get a bit more out of a reference and mention of certain games and industry conventions.
I very much enjoyed the novel. The main characters are deeply flawed, but in ways that are believable and realistic. There’s an honesty to their portrayal that can sometimes be lacking in other novels of this type — the desire to redeem the protagonists, the inability to fully kill your darlings… This isn’t necessarily here, but they do manage to come back a bit on their own steam.
I’ll certainly be checking out Zevin’s next novel, which I find myself quite eager to read. In the meantime, I think just I’ll have to go back and read Zevin’s previous novels while I wait.