Tomorrow and Tomorrow
Pittsburgh is now a nuclear exclusion zone, crawling with nascent forests and filled with ash after a terrorist attack 10 years ago. Our smartphones have evolved into “Adware” and are embedded in our brains, enhancing our consciousness and bombarding us with advertisements related to everything we look at. Yet this isn’t dystopia, exactly. Lives go on as they do today --- people ping each other on social media, drop contacts into one another’s heads, stalk each other’s profiles, attend parties, go to work, preen their LinkedIn pages. Their lives are not too different from our own.
For John Dominic Blaxton, a poet and failed graduate student, life ended with Pittsburgh. His wife, pregnant with his child, died in the terrorist attack while he was out of town for the afternoon, yet he has found a way to still live there. He works for a research agency that takes contracts from a life insurance company investigating claims of those who died in Pittsburgh. His investigations allow him into the Archive, a vast collection of digital footage recreating the recent history of Pittsburgh, which gains him access to his deceased wife. He excels in this job due to his meticulous investigative skills and painstaking need to understand the past. When this talent is noticed, he is dragged into a conspiracy that will irrevocably change the course of his life.
"Sweterlitsch embraces and simultaneously subverts the science-fiction genre to create a fully realized, demanding and challenging world in a way that the best fiction in the genre is capable. He has created a towering, trippy, potent first novel with a delicious and distinctive voice."
In Dominic, author Thomas Sweterlitsch has achieved a remarkable style. Early reviews have compared his voice to Haruki Murakami and Raymond Chandler, two disparate talents whose aesthetics are certainly invoked here, but in complex and contradictory ways that create a completely new voice that straddles hardboiled noir and a dream state. Dominic is given the unusual assignment to track a woman whose presence seems to have been systematically deleted from the Archive. When he sees a trace of her, she disappears. His narration is hardboiled and Chandleresque as updated for a dreamlike, transient, mutable, half-virtual world. This eerie reality exquisitely mirrors the unanchored, hollow life that Dominic leads, much in the vein of Murakami’s isolated protagonists on strange, half-dream journeys.
Sweterlitsch embraces and simultaneously subverts the science-fiction genre to create a fully realized, demanding and challenging world in a way that the best fiction in the genre is capable. He has created a towering, trippy, potent first novel with a delicious and distinctive voice.
In the world of TOMORROW AND TOMORROW, privacy and personal barriers no longer exist as we know them. While “privacy” as a concept is never explicitly addressed, its spectre feverishly haunts the novel’s landscape. Here is a world in which looking at something you like fills your vision with related advertisements. When a girl’s vicious murder is solved, everyone’s minds explode with her naked pictures, headshots and spy camera footage from her ex-boyfriends. These moments resonate powerfully both because of their antithesis to our notions of respect and privacy, and because they already feel familiar.
The book’s concerns about privacy pull at the seams of the mystery genre, of the detective novel. In a world where nearly everything is a matter of permanent public record, accessible to anyone, where do the mysteries go? For Dominic, a character whose life has been utterly decimated by the incomprehensible, mysteries are the only solace. Investigating insurance claims, he painstakingly pieces together disparate pieces of footage, knowing where to look for rare bits, knowing how to get around problems with the facial-recognition software.
Dominic is led down his path by the need to discover the unknown, to solve the unsolvable, to see that which is obscured in a world where everything is ostensibly transparent. He dares to see a mystery and a conspiracy in a world where both of these are practically impossible. And in his digging lies a bizarre hope at the heart of his dark narrative --- that there always may be mysteries and, not far behind, a lone wolf on the trail.
Reviewed by L. Whitney Richardson on July 11, 2014