THE SUNDAY REVIEW | THE OPPOSITE OF LONELINESS – MARINA KEEGAN

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 Loneliness is 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.Goodreads

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This book broke my heart, then put it back together, then broke it all over again. For those of you who haven’t heard of Marina Keegan, she was a 22-year-old Yale graduate who had not only achieved acclaim as a writer (and lined up a post-grad job at The New Yorker), but had a play about to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival. Full of life and already arguably one of the most talented writers of her generation, she was all set to take the world by storm.

Until one night, just five days after her graduation, she was in a car crash. Her boyfriend, who was driving, fell asleep at the wheel. She didn’t survive.

I approached this book with no small amount of trepidation. I was nervous, on the one hand, that the buzz about her was based more on her persona – beautiful young Ivy Leaguer dies tragically – than her writing talent, and that I would read it only to be disappointed. Or the other possibility: that I would love it and be faced with the tragedy that this was it. There would be no more. Which is precisely what I discovered.

But let me back up just a little bit and tell you about the book. It’s a collection of her works – both fiction and non-, collected from her creative writing assignments, newspaper articles – even her graduation speech (from which the book takes it title). Each is completely unique, bearing resemblance only in their skillful, observant, honest style.

This is the first thing that blew me away – her ability to hop from one character to the next, seamlessly embodying such disparate narrators as a submarine officer, an insecure college girl who has just lost her sometimes-boyfriend, a lonely housewife who has found an unexpected outlet, and an architect working as a civilian contractor in Afghanistan.

It is not easy to do this. It is even harder to completely convey and embody a character in less than thirty pages. But this is exactly what Keegan does – over and over again. She was an immense talent, and would have doubtlessly gone on to produce myriad pieces of writing (oh, to have read a novel in this style!).

As I read this book and considered Keegan’s life – and death – I was left feeling like I had encountered a real life Rory Gilmore. Right from the precocious literary dreams (and talent to back it up) to the Yale journalism background. It’s kind of spooky, actually.

This isn’t a long book, but it’s full of writing that blew my mind. I feel like this is a book that, like Anne Frank’s journal, will leave us all dreaming of what this young woman would have accomplished, and yet strangely grateful that she wrote anything at all. Though it is doubtless a tragedy that we’ll never get to read anything more, this book is oddly satisfying and left me feeling a cockeyed optimism about what this younger generation – known more for annoying “YOLO”-isms and an addiction to electronic devices than anything else – might be capable of. Lets hope that she inspires her contemporaries and that her words serve to represent a talent that, though it was all too brief, we can be grateful to have experienced at all.

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Book Title: The Opposite of Loneliness
Author: Marina Keegan
Series: No
Edition: Hardcover
Published By: Scribner
Released: April 8, 2014
Genre: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Posthumous
Pages: 240

Date Read: June 4-17, 2014
Rating: 10/10 //<![CDATA[ var sc_project=10144299; var sc_invisible=1; var sc_security="82f610c9"; var scJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://secure." : "http://www."); document.write("”); //]]>

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