Thursday, July 10, 2014

Book Review: "The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories" by Marina Keegan

I randomly stumbled upon this book, and I'm so glad I did.

Marina Keegan was an aspiring writer who graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She was a talented go-getter with a bright future ahead of her, one which included a job at the New Yorker and a play in production. Five days after her graduation, she was killed in a car accident while on her way to visit family.

An essay called "The Opposite of Loneliness," which she wrote for the Yale Daily News, recounted the excitement she felt about graduating from college and heading into her future, yet it was also tinged with the melancholy of the simpler college days, when minor problems seemed so insurmountable. After her death, the essay went viral, and it led to the publication of this book by the same name, a collection of short stories and essays she wrote.

After reading this book, I can say unequivocally that Marina Keegan was an exceptionally talented writer, one whose fiction was imbued with sensitivity and rich characters, and whose essays were insightful, sometimes humorous and sometimes quirky. The essays in which she referred to the thoughts and fears she had about her own future were particularly poignant, because she had no idea just how short her future would sadly be. It's difficult, of course, to separate the emotional weight of her work from the tragedy of her death, but I still believe this pieces would be powerful had she not died.

I particularly enjoyed a number of her short stories, particularly "Cold Pastoral," in which a college student deals with the death of a fellow student she was dating, but isn't really sure what their relationship meant to her; "Winter Break," which told of the difficulties a college student has reconciling her own romantic relationship with the difficulties her parents are having; "Reading Aloud," in which an aging woman reads to a younger blind man and finds unusual emotional catharsis; the perils of returning to your hometown after your life hasn't gone the way you planned, in "Hail, Full of Grace"; and "Challenger Deep," the story of the crew on a doomed submarine.

Of her essays, the ones I enjoyed the most were "Stability in Motion," in which Keegan recounted her relationship with her first car, a gift from her grandmother, and "Against the Grain," which told of her challenges living with Celiac disease, and her mother's fiercely protective nature where those issues were concerned.

Keegan's writing is layered, at times both poetic and humorous, and quite beautiful. The literary world lost a star it never got the chance to have, but luckily her work was left behind for us to savor, and wonder what might have been.

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