Novel: The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan | Goodreads
Release Date: April 8, 2014
An affecting and hope-filled posthumous collection of essays and stories from the talented young Yale graduate whose title essay captured the world’s attention in 2012 and turned her into an icon for her generation.
Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash.
As her family, friends, and classmates, deep in grief, joined to create a memorial service for Marina, her unforgettable last essay for the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits. She had struck a chord.
Even though she was just twenty-two when she died, Marina left behind a rich, expansive trove of prose that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation. The Opposite of Lonelinessis an assemblage of Marina’s essays and stories that, like The Last Lecture, articulates the universal struggle that all of us face as we figure out what we aspire to be and how we can harness our talents to make an impact on the world.
It’s difficult to review a book when so much of its publicity and glory come from extenuating circumstances. Marina Keegan’s writing is vibrant and distinctive, even more so considering her premature death. I had to keep myself in check at certain points: did I like her writing because it was good, because it something I would normally enjoy? Or did I like it because of all the overwhelming praise surrounding it? Because I felt like I should, because she’s no longer living?
In the end, I decided that it didn’t particularly matter because both aspects primarily impacted my absorption of the read, not necessarily just my review. These were things that made my reading experience sadder and more thoughtful, not just the writing, although I’m confident I would have liked The Opposite of Loneliness despite. Poignant meditations mixed with plucky protagonists made for elaborate short stories; reflective essays punctuated with personal details hit even harder.
The worst part about reading The Opposite of Loneliness was that I felt so vividly as if I knew Marina after reading it – even causing me to use her first name in all commentary that I’ve struggled to write. While I can point out some moments where I think she could definitely improve, the most emotionally difficult part of reading her collection is that she won’t ever be able to. And so her collection stands on its own: vulnerable, warm, and skillful.
Marina Keegan was a brilliant Yale student who died in a car accident days after graduation. She focused heavily on writing, specifically creative writing. It was her title essay The Opposite of Loneliness that caught national acclaim, and so her parents and professors collaborated to put together a showcase of her essays and stories.
I’m not normally big on short stories. I enjoy them and I enjoy analyzing them, as a student and a writer. I struggle with differentiating between what’s necessary, what’s too long and what’s too short, what’s formulaic and what’s pretentious. I’m very picky. Keegan’s stories were entertaining, in the style that I liked. They were moment-based, honing in on particular objects or people without feeling the need to stuff symbolism in every sentence. She had a lovely sense of pacing.
Sometimes when her characters smoked pot and talked about existential crises, I resisted the urge to dismiss the story as pretentious, but they always ended up surprising me; her writing was plain although graceful, which contributed to a few moments of gorgeous clarity that left me with lumps in my throat. Her short stories were stronger than her essays, in my opinion, but that’s because she was able to toss in exquisitely human details that reinforced strong emotions. She still managed to be friendly, even when channeling the MFA-short-story-beanie-vibe (which wasn’t often), and likable. In the introduction by a former professor, Marina Keegan was described as a spitfire, passionate, affable person.
Her characters were each distinct, with the kind of ethereality and accessibility that combined down-to-earth perspectives with tough circumstances that made for compelling imagery and plots. I look for moments in books that make me put down the story, just sit and think “Wow, I think that all the time.” That articulation, that way of verbalizing difficult concepts in simple words, is what gets me when it comes down to it.
I had a lot of favorites in here, a lot. From describing the growth of her first car to her rebellion against her mother’s gluten-free obsession to stories about an off-again-on-again boyfriend dying to an architect in Iraq hoping to make a mark…and making the wrong one. The sheer creativity behind her plots belies her age and her inexperience. If this girl could come up with something like this and write it well, that’s such a remarkable accomplishment. I was proud of Marina Keegan and in awe of her and in mourning for her.
There are even ideas about privilege and pretentiousness in here that would make it a great book club read. There’s a lot of room for growth, so you have to take some essays with a grain of salt. Her essays tended to be simpler than her short stories but I think she did a good job. They’re infused with a youth, a buoyancy that balances out with some darker topics, and keeps her own voice present throughout. Her writing itself fades into the background; I never particularly noticed her phrasing or language but I noticed her stories and her truth.
There are moments when Marina talked about the future, and her children, and what she hoped to accomplish; while those sections are definitely a struggle to get through because we know she never had kids or worked for The New Yorker, it left me with a whole lot of hope because she had magnificent thoughts. She still left an impact, even if it was only through a handful of essays with underline-worthy lines. There’s a lot of truth in here and a lot of personal ideas and a lot of personality.
It’ll stay with me. I was drawn to her writing and her stories, partly due to her death and partly due to her talent. I can’t particularly separate the two because I was distinctly aware throughout the narratives that it was touching and dynamic and genius because of both. It’s human, and that’s what I’m taking away from it. Marina Keegan was undeniably human, and she verbalized it well.