By: Angie Haddock
The night after one of their own is tragically taken away from them, a group of five college friends form a pact: a promise to reunite every few years to throw each other “living funerals,” constant reminders that life is worth living, if not for them then for their late friend.
I have read all of Steven Rowley’s other novels (see one here), so I was super-excited at the chance to read the advanced copy of this one!
The characters in this one became friends in college in the 90s, and – aside from two of them who married – didn’t talk again for almost 20 years. The book goes back and forth between the “present,” where we learn that one has terminal cancer, and the past few “living funerals” that took place before his. During these flashbacks, we get to know all five characters well.
Marielle, the hippie-ish one, was the first to trigger their college pact to throw each other funerals while still alive. She does so because her marriage has dissolved and her daughter – birthed not long after they had graduated – is leaving for college herself.
Naomi is the other woman in the group, and she has a biting personality. She is also the child of Japanese immigrants who expected a lot from her. Their deaths, and the idea that she will never be able to prove her worth to them, triggers her to invoke her “funeral.”
Craig is a straight male, but one who works in the world of art galleries and brokering the sales of high-priced paintings. When he inadvertently decides a painting is “real” that ends up being deemed a forgery, he faces jail time. Marielle invokes the pact on his behalf, making his the first “ambush” funeral.
The last two members of the pact are the Jordans. They share the same first name, and are romantic partners living in New York. They are usually differentiated in the book by one being called Jordan, and the other Jordy. (Although we later learn that he does not like the nickname.) Jordan found that he had cancer a few years back, prompting the longtime couple to finally marry. His cancer was in remission, but now it is back and things aren’t looking good. The five friends have reunited for what we – and they – assume is Jordan’s funeral. But we’ll leave the slight twist for people who want to read this one – because I hate giving away an ending.
There is some nostalgia in here, especially if you were alive in the 1990s. And an obvious comparison could be made to “The Big Chill.” It also features some gay characters, which is a Rowley staple by now. (Write what you know, I guess?) Overall, I found it an enjoyable read. Not exactly groundbreaking, but enjoyable.
This one can be pre-ordered now, and I was able to read ahead through NetGalley thanks to the publisher, Putnam.