Sunday, August 24, 2014

Beyond Her Years: The Opposite of Loneliness

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
Scribner, 2014

Five days after she graduated from Yale University magna cum laude with a job lined up at The New Yorker and a promising writing career ahead of her that had already won her numerous awards and accolades in college, 22 year old Marina Keegan was killed in a car accident. At the same time that her family and friends were mourning her loss, the world was being captivated by some of her final words. Her final essay for The Yale Daily News, "The Opposite of Loneliness," was going viral online, getting over 1 million hits in a matter of days.

It is the piece which lends its title to and kicks off this collection of stories and essays compiled by Keegan's family and former teachers. Some were written for classes in high school and college, others for the newspaper, but all act as windows into this bright young woman. In many ways, she was wise beyond her years, her works venturing into avenues and topics that I am now embarrassed to admit I scarcely thought about when I was 21 (and could/should dedicate more of my time to now at 26). Yet, she always sounds 21. A smart 21, a 21 with an impeccable vocabulary and earnest desire to paint the world in an honest light, the sort of honesty that is raw and unapologetic, occasionally tinted with rose-colored hues but only when the situation deserves it. The collection as a whole stands as a testament to this woman's potential which was already flourishing under the tutelage of some of the country's greatest professors and no doubt would have grown even stronger in time had she had more of it.

Of the nine fiction selections, most of them take on characters older than the writer herself and in a variety of situations. I was intrigued by the complications and two sides of relationships in "Cold Pastoral" and moved by the notions of love and family in "Hail, Full of Grace." Of the nine essays, "The Opposite of Loneliness" had me immediately contacting a friend of mine to declare "stop whatever you're doing right now. You have to read this." "Stability in Motion," an ode to her first car, brought back loving memories of my own first set of four wheels, the freedom, the portable home I'd made for myself. I also could empathize with her struggles in "Against the Grain," not in the sense of having Celiac disease (I don't), but in how she was both impressed and embarrassed by the lengths her mother would go to to protect her.

I highly recommend this collection to those looking to deviate from their usual reading selections. While perhaps not groundbreaking material, Keegan's style and voice is refreshing and full of possibility - something those of us who are lucky to still be here could do well to keep in mind in the days we still have.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

The Opposite of Loneliness Website

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