Book review: Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

(courtesy Penguin Books Australia)

Despite living in it all the time, humanity is, by and large, not all that good with dealing with the reality.

So averse are we to its omnipresence and the way in which it very rarely squares with our fairytale glossy hopes and dreams that we go out of our highly inventive way to create places we can escape to where the real world is kept at bay and we can pretend things really do march to the beat of our internal gossamer pretty, idealistically rich, everything ends up happily ever after voice.

And yet for all that imaginative escapism which fuels everything from books published to movies shot to games created, we somehow still find ourselves caught, rather messily as it turns out, between fantasy and reality, not always able, if we are at all, to navigate the chasm in anything approaching an adept way.

Just how lacking we are in a parkour ability to dash between the two is on truly affecting display in Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, the title drawn from the famous Macbeth soliloquy, where two people discover just how hard it is to navigate the folds between what we wish for and what we end up with in a world that has little time for our day dreaming happy thoughts.

‘Exactly. I could save the princess, even when I could barely get out of bed. So, I do want to be rich and famous. I am, as you know, a bottomless pit of ambition and need. But I also want to make something sweet. Something kids like us have wanted to play to forget their troubles for a while.’

Sadie was moved by Sam’s words–in the years she had known him, he so rarely mentioned his own pain. ‘Okay,’ she said. ‘ Okay.’

Sadie and Sam meet one day as kids in 1987 in a Los Angeles children’s hospital, the former there while her sister undergoes lifesaving treatment, the latter recovering from a tragic car crash which took the life of his mother and which severely damaged a foot.

Their escape from too much painful reality, for Sam most especially, is the gaming room where they lose themselves in fabricated world which, even if the games don’t offer all things bright and perfectly beautiful, they at least provide a place where life can be molded and destinies shaped and events well without their control can be brought to heel.

More than that, the games give these two kids, each lost in their own way, a place of escape but also of connection, and so formative are the months they spend playing together that when Sam spots Sadie some eight years in a crowded train station on the other side of the country, he knows he must reconnect with his old friend and that they must, they MUST, make games together.

The reasoning right down to the core of his being, and he effectively convinces Sadie to join him in his gut instinct enterprise, is that games saved them once and gave them something beyond the bog standard ordinary so surely they can again, and in so doing, may just have the same effect on a legion of other people.

It’s an exciting idea and one that fills the emotionally fulsome narrative of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow with the heady idea that we can face reality and bend it to our will, both inside and outside the surrounds of a game.

(courtesy official author site / Photo credit: Hans Canosa)

But, of course, hopes are hopes and reality is, unfortunately reality, and over the course of couple of decades, both Sadie and Sam discover that wanting something, and working hard to get it, is not the same as actually holding it in your hand.

Something happens between head & heart, and the cold unforgiving environs of the real world, something that’s heavily influenced and often corrupted by the sheer, often immutable fact that we are broken, fallible people and that while we are more than capable of reaching for the absolute stars and can even find ourselves some measure of the way on the way up that impossible journey, we can’t always sustain it, falling back to earth when we least want to (which, let’s be honest, is never).

Exploring what happens in the place where who we are meets what we do creatively and how we can be both redeemed and damned by the undertakings that live in that space, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a nuanced and beautifully story of how even the best of things, the things that promise to transcend and best reality can just as easily fall victim to it.

Watching as Sadie and Sam do their best to bring what they can creatively weave, and what they fashion with their own personal failings and poor decisions, brings so much humanity to this novel which slowly but impactfully tells the story of how we often stand awkwardly in the tension between the imagined and the actual, never quite surmounting it as we hope to.

Because he [Sam] loved Sadie. It was one of only a handful of things that he knew to be constant about himself. The greatest pleasures of his life had been when he was by her side, playing or inventing. And how could she not feel that as well?

What makes this immersively moving tale so powerful to read, in much the same way as Still Life by Sarah Winman weaves it superlative tale, is the way it elevates how, in the midst of all this falling into and crawling inelegantly out of the cracks and crevices that form our lives and their manifest inability to live the dreams we weave within and without ourselves, we need the connection that comes from being close to others caught in precisely the same situation.

Sadie and Sam, despite their profound and enduring connection, don’t always get or love each other, and at times outwardly hate each other, but something always draws them close again, the two of them joining intimately by their quest early on to take on the real world and beat it at its own escapism-battering game.

They rarely succeed, of course, but watching them try, and try, more often that not, together, is what gives Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow so much affecting vibrancy and richness and what makes it so beguilingly readable.

We want our dreams and hopes to take on real life and win, and so as read about Sadie and Sam trying to do that, we cheer them on, hopeful they will prevail; they don’t, alas, at least not as much as they’d like to, but their connection endures and their dreams kind of do too, even if they aren’t realised as hoped, and it’s watching that eternal push & pull between the imagined and the real, borne out in the life of two very real people, that makes Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow so compelling to read and why it stays with you long after the two of them have, once again, gone their separate ways.

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