If you've checked out any of the best novels of 2022 lists, you've probably come across Gabrielle Zevin's "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow." As NPR's "Fresh Air" book critic Maureen Corrigan says: "It's a big, beautifully written novel about an underexplored topic, that succeeds in being both serious art and immersive entertainment."
Zevin has written a fascinating novel about two friends who collaborate on designing video games. These games are so imaginative and innovative that you will wish you could actually play them.
The genius of "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow" is that it's not just about video games. Zevin also explores identity, disability, failure and our need to connect with our fellow humans.
"It never occurred to me to write about video games before," Zevin told Wisconsin Public Radio's "BETA."
"Gaming had been some of my seminal storytelling experiences, and they had really kind of determined even parts of the ways I wrote novels, and yet I had never addressed it. And I think this is not actually an experience unique to me because, you know, I was born in 1977, which puts me squarely in the Oregon Trail generation, the generation that is either like a young Gen X-er or an old millennial."
Zevin explained that the first generation of people who played video games when they were children are now in their 40s and 50s.
"And I thought this was worth thinking about: How would your life have been changed if you had consumed videogames for your whole life? How does that change your experience of even, you know, mortality, relationships and everything else?" Zevin said.
One of the most fascinating things about "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow" is that although it is mainly about video games, Zevin is able to include a lot of other interesting themes.
"A great subject for a book is like a great big bowl and it attracts many other subjects to it and it fits many things inside of it," Zevin said.
She says that she knew when she started creating the novel that video games were a great subject because the whole world can be contained within the discussion of video games.
"I believe that you can write about anything and find a shadow history of, say, what it is to be a person or an artist in a certain period of years. So I could tell you about the history of bread making or the history of furniture making or the history of anything," she explained. "And you would learn something about what it was like to be a person by experiencing that time through the lens of whatever thing you're talking about."
But Zevin didn't know all these layers, themes and lenses would end up in a novel. She said the hardest part of writing a novel isn't coming up with an idea, but rather choosing which ideas to go with.
"But with this book, I didn't know. I never know. And I think that's part of the joy of writing a novel," Zevin said.
The two main characters in the novel are Sam Mazer and Sadie Greene. Sam lost his mother in a car accident and seriously injured his foot at a very young age. Zevin believes that the aftermath of the accident determines a lot about why he plays video games and the way he relates to people.
"My thing that I share with Sam is that we're both half Jewish and half Korean, and it's the first time I'd ever given somebody my ethnic identity. And so a lot of Sam's experiences around race — though not all of his thoughts about it, but some of his experiences — are mine," Zevin said.
Zevin was raised in a town with a population that was about 66 percent Jewish. Because of that, she said, she identified a lot with that part of her, but didn't understand much about her Asian identity. She recalls becoming aware of new things when she traveled to Asia in her 20s.
"I might have felt more Asian in a sense," Zevin said. "And so these are some things that Sam experiences."
The other character, Sadie Green, is a video game designer. Her sister has cancer throughout her childhood, which "always makes her think about mortality a lot. And that's one of the reasons she is drawn to video games," Zevin said.
Sadie's experiences pull from Zevin's when it comes to navigating male-dominated professions like video game design and writing novels.
The first video game that Sam and Sadie create is called "Ichigo: A Child of the Sea."
"'Ichigo' is about a child who is caught up in a tsunami and ends up far away from home. But he doesn't have language and he doesn't even know his first name. So the story is how a kid manages to get home," Zevin explained.
Is there any chance that these captivating video games that Sam and Sadie create — with more than a little help from Zevin — could become a reality?
Zevin believes it's possible.
"But video game development is slow. Novel writing is fast. And so I had no burden to actually worry about whether these would actually be hits, be fun, be technically possible. And especially because a lot of the video games that I describe, I tied them to particular technologies that would make them make sense for that time," she said.
But where there's a will, there's a way. Zevin's publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, has made "Emily Blaster" which can be played on Zevin's website.
In "Emily Blaster," the player shoots the words of an Emily Dickinson poem in the correct order to construct the poem.
Temple Hill Entertainment and Paramount Pictures have bought the rights to "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow." Zevin is currently working on the screenplay adaptation.
"I think we almost have gotten to something pretty good. And there's still part of me that worries that you'll end up missing so many things from the book in a movie," she said. "But I'm hoping that we get to a place that really captures the experience of this core relationship of these two people that are better at work than they are at life."