Two weeks before their college graduation, a group of friends, who have become family during their college experience, must attend the funeral of one of their own. Alec has died of an apparent drug overdose and it shakes them all, Craig, Jordan, Jordy, Marielle, and Naomi, to their cores. Alec’s death causes them to question everything they know on the eve of venturing out into the “real world” as adults. In response to their collective pain and confusion at the loss, Marielle suggests “the pact”: at any time in the coming years when they feel that they need it, any member of the group can call the rest of the group together for their “funeral”. This gathering will be a time when the others can celebrate the person who has called the gathering, telling them how much they love them and how much they mean to them. It is a chance to ensure that nothing is left unsaid, as they all felt things were with Alec.
As the years pass, some members of the group grow closer, while others drift apart. They collectively grow older, experiencing varied degrees and types of success. And then they receive the first request to gather for a needed funeral. . .
In The Celebrants, Steven Rowley puts a contemporary spin on The Big Chill, following a small group of friends forever bound together by a promise born of a tragedy as their lives were beginning. Readers are allowed to join the group each time the pact is triggered, getting re-acquainted with the group and they re-acquaint each other with who they are and where they are in their journeys. Along the way, there are births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and all sorts of other life events that affect the group, some of which trigger the pact.
Rowley’s characters are nicely drawn and their relationships always seem credible. Some of what happens at the gatherings may seem a bit implausible, but in that way the life often really is. Rowley emphasizes not only the importance of friendship, but also the special relationships that only seem to manifest during one’s early twenties and can, if tended, remain vital through someone’s entire life.
The Celebrants is a timely reminder to live life as fully as one can, that we rarely have to face life’s challenges alone, and that we should never leave things unsaid until it is too late to say them.