by Kenna Marcelo

THE STORY

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 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. Read reviews: Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

Marina’s voice is one of those that must be heard and shared. Her writing style, wit and sense of humor are perceivable, making her stories something that everyone should read, no matter which generation you belong in.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Fiction

  • Cold Pastoral” is a story about love and death. It’s also about truth, lies, grief, and fears. The female narrator’s new boyfriend dies. She’s unable to find her place in the boy’s life – or should I say, death. The story gets even more complicated when she meets the ex-girlfriend and discovers that the boy has been keeping a diary. Wonderfully written, the story was intriguing and confusing yet enlightening, at the same time.
  • “The Ingenue” is my favorite of all. Probably because I can relate to it so much. It’s a story of a woman visiting her boyfriend who has been away. It gives you a picture of what goes in the mind of a woman. I still think about it to this day. There’s still so much I don’t understand about it.

“Part of me probably knew it was coming because as soon as I shut the door, I started crying. I let my head hang forward and press against the steering wheel but after a few sobs I sat up and stopped. I texted five or six friends from the city. Small things like “Hey, how’s your work?” or “Ugh, I want to kill this girl in Dan’s play.” I do that sometimes when I’m feeling lovely; it’s a strange and compulsive habit, but it usually works.”

Non-fiction

In “Why We Care About Whales,” I realized how good of a non-fiction writer Marina was. Refreshing and witty, she grabbed my attention and made me think.

Against the Grain” and “Putting the Fun Back in Escathology” showed Marina’s flexibility. The former is about Marina’s life with celiac disease while the later is about the study of the “end of the world.” She wrote:

“The thing is, I think we can make it. I think we can shove ourselves into spaceships before things get too cold. I only hope we don’t fuck things up before that. Because million of years is a long time and I don’t want to let the universe down.”

Meanwhile, “I Kill for the Money” is about Tommy Hart, a 63-year-old exterminator. It’s a beautiful story of how people are usually naive and uncaring. Tommy loves his job yet people who need him and even his own kids are embarrassed about their father’s profession. In the story, we find how Tommy puts on a mask to hide his true feelings.

“I’m honest, I’m never late, I respect people, I try my hardest, I’m friendly, I love my wife, I love my children.”

“It’s just like, no one wants bugs around, so no one wants me around.”

“I mean why do you think it’s unlabeled?” Talking about his truck.

“Because people would be embarrassed to hate it in their parking lots, that’s why.”

In “Even Artichokes Have Doubts,” Marina wanted to understand the disturbing statistic she found about a number of “25 percent of employed Yale graduates entering the consulting or finance industry.”

“I think the best way to get skills to work for a non-profit is to work for a non-profit.”

“The answer people give about skills acquisition is very convenient.”

“Maybe it really is a fantastic way to gain valuable, real-world skills. And maybe everyone will quit these jobs in a few years and do something else. But it worries me. I want to watch Shloe’s movies and I want to see Mark’s musicals and I want to volunteer with Joe’s non-profit and eat at Annie’s restaurant and send my kids to schools Jeff’s reformed and I’m JUST SCARED about this industry that’s taking all my friends and telling them this is the best way for them to be spending their time. Any of their time. Maybe I’m ignorant and idealistic but I just feel like that can’t possibly be true. I feel like we know that. I feel like we can do something really cool to this world. And I fear—at 23, 24, 25—we might forget.”

The story was an eye-opener. It reminded me of my own ideals and of what I’ve always wanted to do. I am almost 30 now and I’m far from the person I want to be.

On the flip side, the essay “Song for the Special” is about privilege and making a difference. In the essay, Marina wrote:

“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.” And then she said, “Everyone thinks they’re special—my grandma for her Marlboro commercials, my parents for discos and the moon. You can be anything, they tell us. No one else is quite like you. But I searched my name on Facebook and got eight tiny pictures staring back. The Marina Keegans with their little hometowns and relationship statuses.”

tl;dr

I loved most of the stories in The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories, especially her non-fiction ones which were really good. The world definitely lost a valuable soul when Marina Keegan passed away. ☁

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One thought on “Bookbed reviews: ‘The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories’ by Marina Keegan

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