The Celebrants

Five friends who met as classmates at Berkeley in the mid-1990s invent an unusual pact to cement their bond in The Celebrants, a witty novel by Steven Rowley (The Editor; Lily and the Octopus). The pact was born of tragedy: shortly before Naomi, Marielle, Craig, Jordan, and Jordy were about to graduate, their friend Alec died of an apparent overdose. This tragedy taught them that time and friendships are precious, so they agree "to throw their funerals while they were still living so that none of them could ever question exactly what they meant to the others." Anyone could trigger the pact at any time. The one requirement of the other attendees: "Leave nothing left unsaid." In 2023, Jordan, now married to Jordy, calls in his request but for a painful reason: he's dying of cancer.

The novel highlights each character's story: Marielle's need for "celebration, community, [and] love" after a painful divorce; music executive Naomi summoning everyone for her funeral after her parents die in a plane crash; art dealer Craig facing jail time for his involvement in a fraud. These characters resort too often to glibness, but in Rowley's capable hands--among the nice touches are chapter titles that cleverly reference songs from the Carpenters, which the friends like to sing--genuine feelings slowly emerge. The result is a tender reminder of the exigencies of life and the remarkable ability of happy memories to melt the years away. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

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