Title: The Opposite of Loneliness
Author: Marina Keegan
Genre: Non-fiction (essays, memoir), fiction (short stories, contemporary)
First Published: 8th April 2014
‘What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over.’
Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she graduated 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 22 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 we all face as we work out what we aspire to be and how we can harness our talents to make an impact on the world.
Knowing the circumstances behind the publication of this book, it is difficult to review it. Marina Keegan had all the qualities of a great journalist, and her essays are thought-provoking and honest. She talks with intelligence and honesty and with a sense of hope that I can relate with as a twenty-something graduate myself. For this reason, I carried a sadness with me as I read through the stories and essays, and that has no doubt added a great deal of bias to my review.
I’ll start by discussing the short stories, as they appeared first in the book. Many of them were exceptionally well-written, confirming the accepted belief that she would have been quite successful had she not died. However, I did skip over two or three of them – some themes and characters felt repetitive, and the meaning of the stories weren’t always clear.
“I miss dreaming forwards,” Anna said.
“I dream backwards now. You won’t believe how backwards you’ll dream someday.”
Reading Aloud was by far my favourite short story, about an aging, ex-ballerina who secretly undresses in front of a blind young man while she reads aloud for him (the story is available to read on Yale News). I was impressed by Marina’s ability to produce a convincing narrative of such a mature and accomplished character when the author herself was so young.
Every generation thinks it’s special – my grandparents because they remember World War II, my parents because of discos and the moon. We have the Internet.
However, I think I preferred the essays to the short stories. A personal favourite is Song for the Special. This short essay talks about how we all think we are special, we all quietly want to be – Marina Keegan admits her fears that she will never be anything, and will run out of time to do something defining. It is easy to empathise with her worries; we all think we are special and all want enough time to do meaningful things.
Star Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5/5)
Have you read any of Marina Keegan’s stories or essays? What are your thoughts on the publication of her work after her death?