It All Started with Super Mario Bros.
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I started this book and put it right back down! It’s a story about video games and I am not a gamer! But then, lots of friends read it and loved it, so I picked it up again. This time, I trusted the author to tell me anything I needed to know about gaming in order to understand the story. Yes, of course, there is some game-name-dropping in the book and if you happen to know that particular game, perhaps you’ll get a little extra insight, but trust me, there is enough insight to go around with this book as it explores a long-term friendship. I truly enjoyed it.
There are two main characters with a third one joining along before too long. We start with Sam Mazer and Sadie Green who meet at a hospital when they are preteens. He is a patient who has survived a terrible car wreck and whose foot is broken in twenty-seven places. (He will require many surgeries in his lifetime, but they will never fix the problem.) She is at the hospital visiting her sister who has cancer. It is in the game room of the children’s hospital that they bond over a game of Super Mario Bros. Enjoying each other’s company and liking the same kinds of games, they spend many, many a day in this fashion. Years later, when they are teenagers, there is a misunderstanding over Sadie’s original motivation in hanging out with him and Sam ends their friendship.
But really, how could it end when they had become so close? They were virtually one: “Many afternoons, they had lain side by side on his hospital bed, sharing one identity, making decisions together.”
When Sam and Sadie meet again, they are twenty-one. He is at Harvard, she is at MIT. As they make up, she says to him: “Promise me that we won’t ever do this again. Promise me, that no matter what happens, no matter what dumb thing we supposedly perpetrate on each other, we won’t ever go six years without talking to each other. Promise me you’ll always forgive me, and I promise I’ll always forgive you.”
This statement struck fear in my heart. It seemed to be a bad luck charm promising a lot of ups and downs in their relationship, not to mention a lot of un-forgiveness.
But that is jumping ahead. On the day they make up, Sadie gives Sam a disk that contains a game she has created, wanting his opinion of it. He and his roommate, Marx, play it and like it. Taking a minute to introduce Marx, our third main character, he and Sam met as freshmen when they shared a dorm room. For some reason Marx has always been very solicitous of Sam. Is it because Sam is handicapped? Or is something else at play? (I promise, a unique answer will come by book’s end. It was one of the things I liked best about the novel.)
At any rate, Sadie’s game starts a collaboration among the three of them. Sadie and Sam are the genius game developers. Marx takes care of Sam, Sadie, and everything required in running the business. It turns out they are such a dynamic group that before age 25, they have created a blockbuster game, Ichigo. They are rich and famous.
In the aftermath of their success, Sadie feels slighted. She feels like all accolades fall to Sam, while she is ignored. When a future game they create is less successful, she feels all the blame is given to her. Through it all, she feels Sam gets to make all the final decisions, and she resents this as well. Clearly, these are all the issues of a woman in a man’s world, but they still impact the friendship and the working relationship.
And then tragedy strikes. It hits both Sadie and Sam but, in this case, Sadie gets the lion’s share. Life’s unfairness is almost more than she can bear. She hits an all-time low as does the friendship.
When you get to this part, it’s the best part of the book. Sam does something to try to set the friendship back on course. It’s not a love letter at all, but of course it is a love letter. It encompasses every last inside joke they have shared in their decades together and is very dear. It also beautifully showcases the author’s creativity in pulling everything together in this fashion.
The reader is left to hope that Sam and Sadie will be like the game characters they have created. We hope they indeed live in a world of infinite restarts. We hope they will not only start again at the beginning, but that they will win at the game (of life) this time.
I had previously read and loved three books by this author: Elsewhere, Young Jane Young, and The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. Now I add Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow to the list of terrific books by Gabrielle Zevin.
If you like my writing, did you know I have four books in print? They are all available on my Etsy shop. My newest book, Love, Loss, and Moving On, is also available on Amazon. Please have a look and tell a friend!