The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories – Marina Keegan

Synopsis

An affecting and hope-filled posthumous collection of essays and stories from the talented young Yale graduate whose title essay captured the world’s attention in 2012 and turned her into an icon for her generation.

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 theNew 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 Lonelinessis 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.

Review

Okay, so let’s talk about my mixed feelings for this book. Some of her pieces are definitely better than others. It may sound terrible, but I heard so much HYPE about this collection that I thought my mind would be blown (and it wasn’t). I understand that these stories are bittersweet because we know they are published posthumously. That the glimmer of potential we see can never develop into something greater. But that’s the thing—I still only see POTENTIAL for something great. Marina Keegan’s body of work reads exactly like a 21 or 22 year old person. She draws from her experiences (which are ultimately the best stories), or probably things she’s been studying, or her peers.

Technically, her pieces are not remarkable. But she did know her own faults! I couldn’t help noticing the polysyndeton and anaphora once she pointed it out. The main thing was that I never felt she broke the “fourth-wall.” All her stories were woefully detached from the audience; kind of pretentious and not really connecting with us. It made many of her nonfiction pieces better than the fiction ones as a result. She did have some impressive gems in there, and we’re left with the feeling that she was growing up and doing exactly what she was meant to be doing.

The Opposite of Loneliness: This is the title piece, and really, the piece that got this whole engine going. It is arguably the best piece she’s written here, and of course, it’s sweet hopefulness is only soured by all the things that didn’t happen. We’re so young. We have so much time. God. How could we get from there to here?

Fiction
Cold Pastoral: This one was great. I connected with the characters, the plot was clever, and it shined. This is what a short story is meant to do and what it’s meant to be.
Winter Break: This one fell a little flatter. It felt repetitive and angsty; almost directionless. I couldn’t bring myself to care ENOUGH, but it wasn’t bad.
Reading Aloud: This one kind of made me sick. Maybe it was supposed to?
The Ingenue: I was kind of confused by this one. What was it supposed to MEAN? Did they end up together or not?!
The Emerald City: No. I wasn’t a fan of this one. It was political for sure. You could definitely see the research put into it. But you can’t connect with the epistolary style. It doesn’t WORK. I felt like the information outshone the story.
Baggage Claim: This one was bittersweet. You kind of feel trapped, like you want him to escape. But you also kind of want to cheer them on.
Hail, Full of Grace: This STOOD OUT. I liked it. It was sad for sure. It warns people of regrets and letting that one get away.
Sclerotherapy: This one was dumb. I know there are people in the world that actually make this kind of mistake, but I feel no remorse for them. You did it to yourself.
Challenger Deep: This one felt a little ethereal, like I’m sure it was supposed to. That didn’t make it particularly good though.

Non-Fiction
Stability in Motion: Aww, this one was endearing. I think the fact that a car crash led to the tragically early end made this all the more impactful.
Why We Care About Whales: I didn’t feel myself caring more about whales by the end of this.
Against the Grain: This was one of my favourites. It was really telling. I spent some time wondering how Keegan got to Yale in the first place, and how she wound up becoming as accomplished as she did. And I think part of that has to with the supportive family that she had. The type of family that was so attentive and did so much just for her (especially her mother). This story kind of shows how she didn’t really appreciate how much she had in her daily life, and how she sometimes wished she did.
Putting the “Fun” Back in Eschatology: This is the EXACT kind of 4 am philosophical musing that every young- or new-adult (heck, probably everyone) goes through. And because of that, I found this piece extremely auxiliary.
I Kill for Money: This one did not exemplify any shining journalistic capabilities of any kind. Marina went out and interviewed someone with an interesting story, but she stuffed those facts into an article without framing it or putting together the pieces in any meaningful way.
Even Artichokes Have Doubts: This piece infuriated me. It was a bright testament to total privileged problems. I don’t think Keegan had any idea how much people from other parts of the world (even your friends up North!) would kill to have that kind of attention from McKinsey or Bain. At Yale, those opportunities come to you yet you all try to rationalize yourselves like social justice warriors. Every single person made it seem like a true desire to do something other than nonprofit work was shameful and had to be rationalized as temporary, or simply another facet to help people. Maybe in a sheltered privileged bubble, yes. But it’s also idealistic and unnecessary. Do you realize that your voluntourism trips are not always as helpful as your shining eyes hope?
The Art of Observation: White privilege this time. It’s disconcerting to read about, because I sometimes feel like Keegan expects it and likes it. She seemed somewhat abashed by it, but she definitely enabled that kind of behaviour. It’s saddening from both sides of the story.
Song for the Special:
“I want what I think and who I am captured in an anthology of indulgence I can comfortingly tuck into a shelf in some labyrinthine library.”
A part of me can see how tragic this is; how completely IRONIC that this totally happened—without any personal accomplishment or fulfillment derived from it by Marina. Another completely sick part of me thinks, “Well, you got your wish. Did you ever think it would have to come with such a cost?” Because now, when people typeMarina Keegan into their search engines, this girl DOES show up. She is the one there, plastered for all to see.

Ugh, I have completely mixed feelings about this collection. On one hand, I see it like a sickening cash grab by her parents; a way for them to exploit their poor little dead daughter for personal gain. Can we get back to feeling sad about that first piece, The Opposite of Loneliness, knowing that the young woman left so soon after?

Related Reading

  • The description says it’s like “The Last Lecture – Randy Pausch,” but it only wishes it were as good.
  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – Amy Chua (another sensationalist book that makes me feel like I was cheated out of my money)

Rating: 3/5

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3 thoughts on “The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories – Marina Keegan

  1. The Ingenue was a great story up until the very last paragraph! I was also totally confused by the line “On our wedding night, Danny winked at me when the cake came out and we both knew what he was thinking.” This is right after the main character ditches Danny in Cape Cod and her mother keeps asking her if she’s okay, which implies that she and Danny broke up, but then the final paragraph makes it seem like they got married?! I chose to believe that it was bad editing and the girl got married to some other guy but invited Danny to her wedding anyway. Otherwise this story’s meaning is completely lost to me.

    • No. It was Danny thinking that he invented cha-cha-cha. She married Danny even after he cheated on her. So I thought that the story was a fail because nothing really changed. She learned he was a liar and a cheat and then married him anyway. I don’t see how the cha-cha-cha relates to the Yahtzee as she claimed in the beginning.

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