cover image The Celebrants

The Celebrants

Steven Rowley. Putnam, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-54042-8

Rowley (The Guncle) offers another winning story of a friend group held together by an unusual bond. Five friends at U.C. Berkeley are reeling from another friend’s overdose death. Just before graduating in 1995, they make a pact. Each of them may ask for a “living funeral” in a moment of crisis, and their friends will show up to celebrate their life. After college, they drift apart. Then, in 2013, Marielle Holland, now living in Washington, D.C., sounds the alarm, flailing through an impending divorce. In 2016, Naomi Ito’s parents die in a plane crash, pushing the strident Naomi, now a music executive, to drag them all to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. In 2018, Craig Scheffler, who relies on humor to shield his emotions, is facing prison for art fraud when the friends ambush him for his own “funeral” in New York City. Finally in 2023, Jordy Tosic and Jordan Vargas, now husbands in New York City, activate the pact because Jordan’s cancer is back. Faced with an impending real funeral, the quintet, now 50, gathers a final time for a genuinely heartfelt conclusion. Rowley admirably avoids sentimentality along the way, and there’s plenty of fresh and witty dialogue. For anyone needing a reminder about the importance of friendships, this will more than do the trick. Agent: Rob Wiesbach, Rob Wiesbach Creative. (May)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the city two characters live in.