Book Review: The Opposite of Loneliness

18170549Marina 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 Loneliness is an assemblage of Marina’s essays and stories that 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

ashley | I rarely read the foreword of a book. It’s a bad habit, but I always just want to jump right in and get started. When I picked up The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan, I made a point to read the forward to cast some insight into Marina’s life. I have seen this book everywhere and knew it was published posthumously but I knew nothing else about who this young, bright writer was. So there I was, on a crowded Toronto subway at 3:30pm, reading the foreword by Marina’s professor and mentor, struggling to hold back my tears. It’s not that the words were moving, but rather, the tragic reality of why this book exists.

This collection of writing was gathered from Marina’s personal collection. Nothing was overly edited before being put into print, so it’s safe to assume that the impression that we get from these stories are all Marina’s. And that impression supports everything I have read about her. Marina seems like a wide eyed, ambitious 22 year old, not entirely sure what she wants form life but with all the opportunity in the world and big dreams and ideas.

Her fiction is complex, focusing more on human reaction and emotion than the story itself. It’s hard to remember that these stories are fictional. Marina writes with such a demanding first person voice that for the first few stories, I actually thought she was writing about her own experiences and forgot that it was logged under fiction. What I like is that these are all very real, the characters seem like everyday people, the situations are those awkward, confusing moments in life that don’t get the spotlight too often. They’re full of a raw honesty about life and sex and love. About how all those lines can easily get blurred when you’re a young 20-something trying to find your footing.

Marina definitely has the short story down to an art. They each feel full and developed like a novel; I got lost in the context and forgot that I just started reading it, that I only just met the characters.

The non-fiction essays read like they were initially a piece of writing for an assignment, there’s a bit of a stiffness to them at times, but that aside, Marina really does have a budding voice that can be found inspiring. These essays feel very much like the fiction short stories. Even when it’s an essay about whales, there’s still this singsong flourish of a story being told, something that reaches far beyond just relating the facts, which is refreshing. I mean, there’s a whole piece on Celiac Disease that is absolutely hilarious. Who would have thought gluten was funny?

I’ve heard a bit of slack about this book, in that its only getting all this attention because of her tragic and untimely death. And maybe that is the case, but that doesn’t mean Marina doesn’t have a voice that speaks for her generation. Marina’s outlook on life is full of that naive invincibility that only young 20-somethings have and instead of trying to write beyond her years, she embraces it, giving us a balance of innocence and maturity. I’m no longer 20-something, but I can remember what it was like and found these stories and words very inspiring and motivating.

To think that she had written this much at that point in her life, that these rough drafts were this polished and poised, it’s hard to accept that there is no opportunity for her to further define her voice and accomplish her dreams. To all the naysayers, Marina’s voice was destined to be heard, we’re just hearing it a bit sooner than anyone would have expected.



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