The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan
Published By: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: April 23th, 2015
Genres: Non-Fiction, Essays
Date Read: January, 2018
Links: Goodreads | Book Depository | Booktopia | Amazon
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.
I’m torn about this book. On one hand, it’s an inspiration: at 22, Marina Keegan clearly had remarkable self-assuredness and work ethic. But her prose isn’t particularly inspired. There were a few decent stories and essays in here–writing that showed tremendous ability and potential. But there are a lot of very weak pieces in here, too.
The nonfiction part saved it partially. I am quite impressed that all of this was written before she was 22. The way she was able to capture moments and feelings that I have often felt and put them into words and revelations is inspiring.
What happened to Marina Keegan is absolutely tragic. She had her whole life in front of her before she died in a car crash. That this happened five days after she graduated from college makes it even worse. And I think that if she had been given the opportunity, she would have made something out of herself and would have grown not only as a person, but as a writer as well.
The fiction is not very good. From the little background I know of the author, she seemed to have a very narrow world focus with little disappointment or hardship to write a full range of stories authentically. The stories about rich white young people ring the most true. I found myself bored by the fiction section and the stories steadily spiralled into bad.
However the non-fiction essays are excellent. She is a gifted essayist and she should’ve focused more on that. There is glory in fiction writing but if she would’ve devoted her time and energy to honing her essay craft, I have no doubt Marina would’ve written essay collections I would’ve loved. The last essay was haunting and prophetic and that essay framing the work with “The Opposite of Loneliness” was an excellent choice by the editor of the collection. I do think the editors should have included less fiction and more of her essays since the essays are special and what Marina should be remembered for.
“We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time. There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious as we lie alone after a party, or pack up our books when we give in and go out – that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialised. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. That it’s too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement.”
Marina’s last essay for the Yale Daily News, this is sort of like the college version of a high school commencement speech. You know, those speeches usually given by the class president of the valedictorian of the graduating class, trying to inspire the other students on their quest to becoming adults. I found ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’ speech to be insightful and honest.
Keegan spoke about feeling excited to be poised to go out into the world with her fellow graduates and she spoke of how they would use their talents to make a mark on the world. She also spoke honestly of the fear and nervousness she felt about leaving the safety of what was familiar…. the campus and their community of students and professors.
“We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life.”
This follows a girl named Claire, who is left in the awkward position of being asked to speak at the funeral of her boyfriend Brian. Why is this awkward? Because she has to deal with the presence of his ex-girlfriend Lauren. This was probably not the best story to start out with. The writing felt forced, and I could generally find no purpose or moral to the story. There was also no concrete middle or ending, which made the overall story fall flat. It also didn’t help that the main characters were unlikable.
Again, with this story, I found no point to it, and no concrete resolution either. It seems to me that Marina likes to write about young, pretentious kids who abuse substances and try to sound wise and sage. Unfortunately, it backfires.
I found the characters to be quite interesting. You have Anna, a faded ballerina who is a hypochondriac, who reads to Sam, a blind man. Thing is, Anna is currently going through a midlife crisis where she doesn’t have any romantic feelings for her husband, so she compensates for that by emotionally cheating on him with Sam.
“The Ingenue” portrays the ups and downs of a young relationship and how the little interactions between people can express a lot about a person’s true personality. I must admit that I don’t actually remember too much about this one, which is mostly the reason that I’m giving it a low rating.
Points for the originality of the story, as it’s told entirely by emails. We were treated to such a nice email exchange between a soldier and his girlfriend, But I felt that there was a Lack of connection between the main characters, I thought the overall storytelling was solid thought.
This was really Unmemorable. In fact, so unmemorable I completely forgot what this was about. I’m not going back to find out though.
“Hail, Full of Grace” continues Keegan’s exploration of real, complicated life. Audrey’s home for the holidays and just knows she can’t avoid running into her ex, her ex who she dated throughout high school and into college, who clearly thought they were meant for each until Audrey got pregnant and gave up the baby for adoption. Thankfully, this story actually proved to be a heartwarming story. However, I questioned the actions of the main characters, whom I thought acted quite selfishly. It was like they were repeating the same mistakes over and over again without learning the consequences.I know they say you can write about anything, but when the whole plot of this story involves a woman explaining her Chinese tattoo and getting her varicose veins removed, there’s a problem. This story was essentially missing everything that makes a story just that: A story. This read like a high school student’s paper. The was no story or plot.
We’re at the end. This is the last Fictional story. And to end this section of the short story part of the book, we end with yet another story that’s not particularly memorable. So basically another story I can’t for the life of me remember.
I have to say, Keegan was a much better essay writer than a short story writer. The writing style flows easier and is a lot less forced than her fictional endeavours. This little essay involves Marina’s first car and how it’s become a special thing to her. Memorable moments in her life involve her car, and when it’s time to give it to her brother, it’s a bittersweet feeling.
“I worry sometimes that humans are afraid of helping humans.”
“Why We Care about Whales,” uses a memory of beached whales to pose a concern. Keegan notes how people rush to help these whales and draws attention to instances where humans spend inordinate amounts of time, money, and effort on helping animals that might already be doomed and yet label neighbour or co-worker crises as “not my problem.”
Keegan tells the tale of the plight of beached whales. When the Earth rotates, the ocean rotates as well. This causes whales to beach, therefore sending them to an agonising death. She argues that we, as a human society, pay far too much attention to the plight of animals and not enough recognition to the plight of humans. While I appreciated her articulation of thoughts and her logical arguments, I did disagree with her points in this essay. Animals are an important part of our ecosystem as well, and it’s equally vital that we help those animals in need as it to help our own kind. I still did enjoy this story though.
The most personal of her essays and my absolute Favourite, this deals with Keegan’s struggles with Celiac Disease and her overprotective mother. As a kid, Marina used to shrug her condition off as no big deal, when to her, it actually was. The embarrassment of her mother coddling her and overbearing her with concern and affection, and the general wishing that she could be normal. As someone who actually is Gluten Intolerant, I share the same sentiments as Marina. Wishing you could eat all the foods that you’re strictly forbidden to is a frustrating thing. It was an easy read and by far her best essay of the collection.
As she’s the first to acknowledge, this is a timely subject with the popularity of gluten-free products and diets. Keegan reminds her readers that gluten-free might be trendy now, but it was little known and even less understood during her childhood. This story is as much about Keegan’s relationship with her mother as it is about gluten. Once aware of the problem, Keegan’s mother championed her daughter’s health.
What’s going to happen when the world ends? Marina tries to answer this question in a scientific manner. For those of you who want an concrete answer, the end of the world will happen when the sun explodes. Basically, this is a giant announcement for us to protect the environment. It might be a bit too political for some readers, but it’s interesting to hear a logical voice come into the debate.
This was really Unmemorable. In fact, so unmemorable I completely forgot what this was about. So there’s not much I can really say about this one. I don’t remember a single thing about it.
The age old question every college student asks themselves at the start of their career: do I major in a subject that I hate, but will lead me to a career that earns me a lot of money? Or do I follow my heart and major in a subject that I love, but will have to resign myself to the fact that I won’t be rolling in the dough anytime soon?
When Marina and a friend went to India, they were constantly stopped by locals who wanted to take their picture. Why? Since she looked drastically different than them, she and her friend were curiosities. I loved this cultural anthropological study about how what we perceive as normal can be so different to others.
Every generation thinks they’re special in some way because of all the advances that have been made during their life time. It’s so much fun to talk to an elder and listen to what they’ve been through. And yet, Marina says, we’re constantly jealous because they got to go through and see all these amazing things we’ll never get the chance to experience. The thing is, we shouldn’t be dwelling on what could have been; we shouldn’t even be dwelling on the “what will become”. We need to live in the now, preserve the memories now, so when the time comes.
That’s it for this review! This took a really long time to write up. Have you read this book? If so, What did you think of it? Is it on your TBR? Tell me in the comments if you agree or disagree with any of this. I’d love to know your opinion.