Everybody in Pittsburgh is connected to everybody else; they just don’t always realize it.
Test it yourself: pick a random person at your bus stop, smile, and say good morning. Unless they’re having a super-cranky day, this is most likely going to lead to a conversation. Approximately three minutes into your chat, you will discover that your new friend knows a) somebody you work with, b) somebody you used to work with, c) somebody you went to school with, d) one of your friends/relatives/neighbors, or e) some combination thereof. Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, meet Three Degrees of Yinzer. It’s 99% foolproof.
If you and I were to get into that bus stop conversation, and you were to ask me about local author Thomas Sweterlitsch, I’d have to pick option b: somebody I used to work with. Sort of. Vaguely. I spent one very pleasant day hanging out with him at the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped when they needed an extra pair of hands, but we’ve otherwise had minimal professional contact: casual hellos at meetings and such. He’s a nice guy. So you can imagine how tickled I was to get my hands on his debut novel, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, and discover that all the glowing professional reviews of a nice’s guy’s first book were more than justified.*
If you somehow managed to avoid hearing about the book and its fascinating backstory, here’s a quick summary: In the not-so-distant future, John Dominic Blaxton lost his wife and unborn daughter to a terrorist attack that destroyed Pittsburgh completely. Paralyzed with grief, Blaxton spends most of his time in the Archive, a digital repository that contains a Pittsburgh lovingly preserved down to the last pierogi. Occasionally working, but mostly revisiting scenes from his past, Blaxton haunts the various places where his favorite memories took place. When he stumbles across the digital corpse of a missing girl, however, he finds himself caught up in a high-stakes whodunit that could wipe out every last pixel of the past he holds dear.
Readers burned out on dystopia, have no fear: Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a literary sci-fi lover’s dream. The writing style has been compared frequently to that of Philip K. Dick and William S. Gibson, and, while the influences are definitely there, I’ll up the ante and argue that there are also shades of Oryx and Crake here: Sweterlitsch achieves the same haunted, poignant tone that Atwood does, with similar poetic grit. Tomorrow is also noteworthy for its concrete scene-setting: Not only does the book capture Pittsburgh perfectly, but there are also passages late in the book about other parts of our region—Youngstown and New Castle, specifically—with potential emotional impact on people who know them firsthand. That same careful attention to detail is applied equally well to other cities that appear in the book, such as San Francisco and Washington D.C., proving that Sweterlitsch has both research chops and a flair for description.
Even if sci-fi, tech-noir, or urban dystopia aren’t in your normal wheelhouse, you’re going to want to pick this one up at some point, because Tomorrow and Tomorrow is, at its core, a story about grief and loss, two burdens that visit everyone sooner or later. It functions as a grim in-joke, too, if you’re local: blowing Pittsburgh to smithereens and reconstructing it as a digital archive transforms the city into the ultimate Thing That Isn’t There Anymore (well-played, sir, well-played). There’s a lot to unpack here, and you don’t want to be the only person in town who hasn’t read it, especially since it’s been optioned for film, too.
If all of that sounds like cake and Christmas to you, you’ll want to click over here ASAP and reserve your free tickets for tomorrow night’s Writers Live event at CLP Main, presented in partnership with Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures, which will start at 6 p.m. in the Quiet Reading Room. Tickets are free, but space is limited, so don’t be left out, especially since Mystery Lovers Bookshop will be there too, with copies for sale.
Once you’ve read the book and attended the program, your next mission is to take Tomorrow and Tomorrow to the bus stop, T, 61C, or other public gathering place of choice and make a new friend. Because until the machines take over, we are the Archive. There’s no permanent inoculation against heartbreak, but a good conversation about a good book in a great city makes for a terrific booster shot.
*If you’re still concerned about reviewer bias, please: read the book, and then let’s go have coffee. If you think I missed the mark, the drinks are on me.