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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Celebrants by Steven Rowley

Rowley brings humor to this heartwarming--but never cloying--exploration of friendship, connection, messy relationships, heartbreak, and life and death.

To think about life is to contemplate death--it's what makes living so valuable. Our time here is limited, gone in the blink of an eye.

Steven Rowley's first novel The Guncle is full of heart and humor, quirky family love, and fun references to musicals and movies--yet Rowley also offers poignancy, an exploration of grief, and the impossible-seeming prospect of going on after deep loss.

His newest novel, The Celebrants, centers around college friends who made a pact after Alec, one of the original six, died before their 1995 graduation: if any of them is going through a crisis and needs to know they are loved more than they love themselves, they can call upon the others to assemble, no questions asked--for affection, support, and the sharing of sentiments typically reserved for after a loved one is gone.

The members of the group may have grown apart, but in the decades to come, when one of them feels adrift and lost, they come together in sassy, funny, imperfect, loving support.

"My purpose, in this life, has been to love and spend it with you."

The Celebrants centers around the evolving, sometimes complicated relationships between the five friends, and the tone feels wonderfully similar to that of The Guncle.

Rowley doesn't smooth over realistically tangled, messy, intriguing conflicts or sober themes, yet he doesn't position the friendships in such a way that their existences magically solve life's deepest problems.

The friends love each other, even if they sometimes don't like each other for a bit. When they're entrenched in their own lives or have drifted away from the others, they may question the value of the pact itself and its intrusion upon their busy lives.

Jordan, Jordy (the Jordans!), Marielle, Naomi, and Craig cope with difficult family dynamics, professional missteps, long-held secrets, the pressure of societal expectations, marital complexities, illness, reinvention, frustration with each other, and pure love.

The circumstances that trigger the pact are sometimes unexpected, and The Celebrants offers resolutions, triumphs, and a version of a happy ending in which not everyone gets what they want, but life goes on.

I adored this book. I loved the way Rowley dove into dark humor; funny banter; not always practical but deeply held connections; and life and death--particularly, how to live fully and how to best face our inevitable demise: by showing unconditional love to those who make your life worth living.

This is deep but funny with an edge, and the book is never cloyingly sentimental although it's wonderfully sweet.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

You can check out my full review of The Guncle here.

Rowley's husband Byron Lane wrote another book I loved, A Star Is Bored. You can find my review of that book here.

If you're intrigued by books about facing mortality, you might be interested in the books on my Greedy Reading List Six Powerful Memoirs about Facing Mortality.

I received a prepublication edition of this book, published May 30, courtesy of NetGalley and G.P. Putnam's Sons.

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