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Vocal Book Club: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

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By Erica WagnerPublished 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 5 min read
Top Story - December 2023
27

Sadie, Sam and Marx are the central characters of Gabrielle Zevin’s remarkable 10th novel, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. Sam and Sadie meet when they are 11 years old, in the games room of a Los Angeles hospital. Sam — fervently playing Super Mario Bros — is chronically ill; Sadie’s older sister is dying of cancer. Eventually Sam and Sadie will become game designers of the highest order, their friend Marx a kind of abiding spirit who keeps them together and lifts them to greater heights — even as tragedy strikes.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow was published in the summer of 2022. It is Zevin’s tenth novel — her fifth for adults, since she also writes books published for young people (notice I don’t say, ‘writes for children’, as I think people of any age can like any book, pretty much). She had certainly been a successful writer: her first young adult novel, Elsewhere (2005) was chosen as an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book and was on the longlist for the Carnegie Medal. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry (2014) was a bestseller. But Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow took her to the next level — and in the best possible way, as a word-of-mouth bestseller. This is a book that has kept flying off the shelves in the 18 months since its release, not thanks to ad campaigns or book reviews, but because one reader after another — and I’m one of them — has kept saying: you have to read this. It has remained on the New York Times bestseller list for dozens of weeks; it is one of the top selling adult fiction titles of 2023.

Zevin has said that she wrote the book during the bleakest part of the pandemic; she wondered whether things would ever get better, so she reckoned she might as well write the book she just really wanted to write — without caring at all what anyone would think about it. Now, the extraordinary thing about the artist’s craft is that often, the more personal things are, the more they are able to connect deeply to a wide audience. Not long ago I had the privilege of interviewing Joceyln Nicole Johnson for the podcast I host for CHANEL: we were talking about her debut novel, My Monticello, published when she was in her 50s. Before becoming a novelist in her sixth decade, Johnson was an art teacher in a public school, so she had a great deal of experience when it came to helping people express themselves. “Find the weirdest thing about you and follow that,” is what she said, in essence — it’s what makes you the person you are. If you follow that path — along the road that makes you unique — you’ll make something no one else could possibly create.

And so it was for Gabrielle Zevin. When she finished Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow she handed it to her partner, always her first reader, who said: Wow, you wrote this book just for me. She was astonished. Then she gave it to her agent. Gosh, the agent said: you wrote this book just for me. It was then she knew she had something that readers might really take to their hearts — and so they have.

So why is that? This is what we want to get to the bottom of in our Book Group. Remember, there are no right answers, and the questions below are merely prompts for your thinking; I hope they’re helpful, but please feel free to drop in your own questions for other Vocal community members to engage with. For me, this is a book about friendship, about the power of creativity, about how we find who “our people” are… and what those relationships can or cannot survive. It’s about identity and storytelling. Of course it’s about video games too, a form I’ve never really reckoned with: another thing this book did was remind me that you should always keep an open mind about art. You may think something is not for you — but maybe you’ve come across it at the wrong time, or maybe you should just try again, look deeper, think harder.

But reading this novel, I promise, is no hardship. I was swept away by the very first paragraph and I think you will be too. That said — you may have a different opinion, and if that’s the case we’ll be keen to hear it, remembering that we always keep things friendly on Vocal, though we can agree to disagree!

Welcome to the Vocal Book Club. Just a warning: the questions below may contain spoilers, since they assume you’ll have read the whole book. So if you haven’t done that yet, look away now!

Discussion Questions

  • Did you have a favourite character or characters in this novel? Tell us why!
  • Sadie and Sam remain friends but never are never romantically involved. “Lovers are…common,” she tells him. “Because I loved working with you better than I liked the idea of making love to you. Because true collaborators in this life are rare.” What do you make of that sentiment?
  • Did the plot move in a natural way, or did you ever feel manipulated by the storyline? The book contains a shocking act of violence: how did this dreadful eruption affect how you felt about the book?
  • Why are games — which unlike novels, don’t have definitive endings — important to the book?
  • Is there a particular scene that has really stayed with you?
  • Vocal Book Club
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    About the Creator

    Erica Wagner

    Lead Editorial Innovator, Vocal. Author, critic, friend, parent, cook. New book: Chief Engineer: Washington Roebling, The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge. Twitter: @EricaWgnr, Insta: @ericawgnr

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    Comments (18)

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    • Leslie Writes4 months ago

      I wish we all could have a Marx in our lives, a wrangler of horses. I love how Sam meant that to wound Marx, but he owned it. He knew his value. I hate the ridiculous ‘When Harry Met Sally’ notion that men and women can’t be platonic friends. I was actually jealous of the way two people could work together so well (for a time). My husband and I met as young comedians and we could not write together. Collaborations can be so hard! I didn’t feel manipulated by the plot, but it did feel cyclical. Marx’s death was a shared trauma that instead of bringing them closer only drove them further apart. I’m not a big video game fan, but I love the idea of leaping into something with all you’ve got because if you fail, you can just try again. One chapter ends, another begins.

    • Scott Christenson4 months ago

      Playing games, where the characters die over and over, makes us feel like we can live forever. Fascinating book, I finished reading it last month. The characters feel so very real, just like real people I knew in high school. And the struggle Sam goes through with pain on a daily basis, felt very viscerally in the novel, while still getting his projects accomplished, makes many of our lives feel like a stroll in the park by comparison. The big scene with Marx later on def stuck with me. I did find after finishing the book, the overall theme didn't really land for me, but each chapter was structured exquisitely well, and the plot had a lot of tension. As a realistic portrait of computer game programmers, and the lives of busy people in their 20s, its perfect. I did wish there was a little bit more humor I guess. I'm currently reading "Anxious People" which has laugh out loud prose throughout.

    • Kendall Defoe 4 months ago

      I gotta look for this one!

    • Novel Allen4 months ago

      Will try to find the book at the library or somewhere. Then will do a reread. Sounds wonderful.

    • Caroline Jane5 months ago

      🙌 Made it! I have added my thoughts to Rachel's commentary below. 😁

    • Rachel Deeming5 months ago

      My favourite character was Marx. I wasn't too sure about him at the start of the book and wondered if he was going to be a hedonist or amoral but actually, despite his inability to have a relationship and appearance of someone flighty, he is a steadying presence and has excellent personal qualities. I think this stems from the fact that he knows who he is and is comfortable with that, in the face of other people's opinions. There is a solidness to him in his actions and in his loyalty to his friends, especially Sam which I found touching because he is doing kind things out of altruistic motives and not personal gain. There is much to be said for Sam and Sadie's relationship. They have a connection which is true and a lot of lovers do not have such intimacy despite their sexual relations. I do feel though that the true love story in this book is not between Sadie and Sam but between Marx and either Sadie or Sam. He is the one who shows a love which is strong and dutiful and more honest somehow. Sadie and Sam love making games together but beyond that, I don't know that they have more. Without that shared interest that provided strong roots and bound them in the hospital, I don't know if they would be able to have a successful relationship. I didn't feel manipulated by the storyline but I would like to know why you chose this as a talking point. You could sense with the mentions of the political outspokenness of Sam as Mayor and his creation of a world which is all embracing that he would become a target and I did think that it would be him who would be attacked. He always seems the most vulnerable out of the three because of his unease with people at times and his natural urge to defend and protect himself as well as his physical impediment. He would be easy authorial pickings in some ways. I didn't like Marx dying and I hoped that he would make it out of the coma - I was not surprised when he didn't. Tragedy acts as a unifier and so with him still there, Sam and Sadie would never come together again in the same way. Games are important to the book because they are the means through which Sam and Sadie communicate - it is their language and where the greatest understanding of each other comes from. There is also a sense that it is easy to start over, regenerate, keep going? It's like going back to their roots. I can't remember one particular scene - maybe the way that Marx relinquishes life? I liked the way that that leaving was described. There is a lot of Marx in this analysis! I really enjoyed the book. It took me back to my younger days where games were just taking off and there was a buzz about what could be achieved through them. I liked the exploration of love in its many forms: friendship, family, dominance, compatibility, attraction. I liked Zevin's writing - I read this with ease and liked the world she created and the story she told us. I would love to read your comments in response to mine and know what the next book will be so that I can get on it!

    • Babs Iverson5 months ago

      Was able to pickup a large print version from our library. Started on Saturday and finished this Have you finished reading?

    • Babs Iverson5 months ago

      Sam & Sadie are my favorite and it's their love story.

    • Babs Iverson5 months ago

      Because of the emotional high and low, this scene stayed with me. Sam & Sadie's walk to Dov's apartment. They were happy and joyful. In such excitement, Sam skips on his return home and falls at a curb. Joyfully to painfully.

    • Hannah Moore5 months ago

      I saw this in a shop today. I wandered around with it, gathered a gift for my niece, fended off some proffered items from my children, and then put it back. Won't have time to read it. Perhaps I need to make time.

    • Test5 months ago

      Congratulations on achieving top story status! 🙂

    • Test5 months ago

      Very well written. Thanks for sharing this story 🙂

    • Andrew McKenzie5 months ago

      well things are great in this story.

    • Natasha Collazo5 months ago

      I can tell you who my least fav character is 😂

    • Chloe Gilholy5 months ago

      I loved this book. I think the reason why games don’t have infinite endings whilst most books have concrete ending is because in novels you are going in one direction whilst in games it’s the same but your experiance, skill set and levels greatly change the game experiance thus your ending to a gameplay will be different to somebody else’s gameplay. I thought the characters were great because they felt real.

    • Caroline Jane5 months ago

      I have the book and have started reading it but I probably have another 6 hours of reading to do before I can join in properly! I hope this thread stays open and is used as a working document because I think this is a fabulous idea with questions that I would love to explore through the perspectives of others. Apologies for the ramble and for being such a slow reader!!

    • Judey Kalchik 5 months ago

      Thank you for the 'look away' warning- I skipped the questions because I haven't finished the book. Looking forward to joining in the discussion once i am through.

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