71) Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow Review
Updated: Jun 12
Howdy! I read Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin a week or so ago, and I have mixed feelings about it. It's the story of three founders of a fictional video game company as they make the leap from college students to entrepreneurs, exploring how their personal relationships impact their careers and vice versa.
While the book was already on my To-Read list on Goodreads, when I spotted it at Barns and Noble, it was the cover that caught my eye. I'd long since forgotten what about the book made me add it to my list of over 600 books. Standing with the hardcover in hand, I scanned reviews. Some mentioned the book as being an exploration of immortality in video games. Imagining a sci-fi scenario wherein folks spend immense time plugged into some VR gaming network, that learned their mannerisms and then replicates them as an NPC for their loved ones after their death, I bought it. In case you've seen similar reviews, I'm clarifying that the story is strictly realistic, and set between the 1990s and today. This book not being what I expected isn't a flaw, just worth mentioning.
Chapter one had some turn-offs for me. Sam Mazur reflected on his past experiences with fellow main character, Sadie Green, blaming her wealth and beauty for his youthful dislike of her, adding a throwaway comment that he'd been her community service. Without getting more detailed to avoid spoilers, while I was then unsympathetic to his judgmental nature and victim complex, once his experiences with Sadie are revealed in greater detail later in the book, his reaction is more justifiable. There was also a lot of emphasis on an experience that must have been common in the 90s, but not much since. Basically, there are pictures that the viewer stares at while unfocusing their eyes to see a secondary previously concealed image. I vaguely recall picture books featuring these illusions so I figured out what was being described. However, it took time and effort and reflecting to do so, and aside from nostalgia, I don't think it added to the story. For someone who didn't grow up in the 90's, what was going on with the poster was probably even less clear. Still thinking the book was going to take a sci-fi turn, I also wasn't yet reading the book with the expectations I have of realistic fiction, which was likely a factor in my initial confusion. When there was mention of an illusion on a subway wall, drawing a crowd, I first imagined something much more VR-centered.
The third main character is Marx Watanabe. Sam, Sadie, and Marx, in the order they are introduced, are geniuses, the story beginning with their time in university. For all his brilliance, Sam's taciturn, socially inept, and fails to prioritize his loved ones or health. Marx enters the story as Sam's voluntary keeper, supplying necessities and mending bonds Sam neglects. Of the main three, Marx is immediately likable for his observant and selfless nature. Sam and Sadie rekindle their childhood friendship, and embark on a creative journey with Marx's support.
While the story goes over their various projects, the emphasis is on how they grow and regress. Marx is a self realized person from the beginning, despite having grown up an outsider. Sam's selfish, direct to the point of rudeness, and insecure. He has both physical and emotional trauma to work through, and despite his occasional regression, redeems his every mistake. His journey propels the story.
The problem is Sadie Green. She starts off strong. She's intelligent, driven, and creative. She's even pretty. There was the risk she would be a Mary Sue but thankfully, that's not the direction the story went. While first impressions of Sam weren't great, he acknowledges his flaws and works to improve himself. That doesn't happen overnight but gradually, he works to move on and build a healthy, happy life, despite the traumas and immense physical suffering he's experienced. Part of that motivation stems from Sadie Green finally deciding one day that she is done enabling him. But while Sam becomes more likable, his actions more understandable as the story progresses, Sadie regresses. The timing with her sudden rejection of her dear friend could not have been worse. I had to put the book down for a while because I was so frustrated with how she was not reacting like a reasonable person. There are times when it's right to immediately communicate hurt feelings to a friend. There are situations where it is best to wait until they have concluded, to keep the peace if the stakes aren't high. Instead, Sadie cuts out a friend who is in the midst of great turmoil, and then doesn't explain why.
I really wanted Sadie to redeem herself after that. Whether in terms of her relationships or with her career, I wanted her to get her second wind. Instead, she succumbs to another trauma, doing basically nothing of note for the remainder of the book. That's an exaggeration. She's an adult, doing basic adult things sometimes, but little worthy of remembering.
As for Marx, he didn't need to work on himself. He existed to hold the trio together and be likable, both of which he succeeded at for the most part.
The main characters are fully fleshed out, the places and decades they traverse well described. If this was a nonfiction history of their company, launching into biographies of the three founders, this would be great story. Instead, this is a piece of fiction, and as such, it should be entertaining, or at least interesting. Sadie's story mostly wasn't for the second half of the book, and wasn't at all for the final quarter, and that's a shame. I wouldn't loved to read about her professional triumphs, over even to have delved more deeply into her personal life. I enjoyed the writing style, invested in the characters, but felt to story, didn't tie up loose ends in a satisfying way.
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