Book Review: The Opposite of Loneliness

Saturday 22 November 2014 by

The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan, Simon & Schuster, BookThe Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

Published by Simon & Schuster

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.

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Of all of those nominated on the Waterstones Book of the Year shortlist, The Opposite of Loneliness is perhaps the one I knew least about. Which is why, without having read the blurb, I was surprised when I read the introduction and didn’t find a “welcome to the stage” piece, but a heartbreaking eulogy… Between this month’s Bookclub pick, H is for Hawk and this book, I’m an emotional wreck!

The Opposite of Loneliness only tells the story of Marina Keegan inasmuch as it reveals the writer behind the words. Once you have read the introduction and understand a little of the mind behind the essays and stories, they become all that more clear; they are drawn in to a sharper focus with an edge of sadness.

The “stories” part all reads quite similarly – there are several Kyles, and often the stories deal with summer romances, university angst, and the tribulations of a twenty-something girl. Even Reading Aloud has something of the student about it. Keegan has a distinctive voice; it’s often uncertain, a youthful and inexperienced voice, but it has a profound depth to it, the chastened sentences of someone much more mature, and it is poignant to the point of tears as you read her musings on life and death and hopes and dreams. But it is hard to disconnect the writer from the character. Her voice is so powerful, it almost overrides that of the character she is writing, and often you have to remind yourself that it didn’t really happen.

I preferred, in fact, her essays. They seemed to ring with a truth that was only caught in glimpses in her stories. It was interesting to read them after the stories, and see repeated the views she had previously assigned to her characters. There is something tragic about her statements about the future, about the death of the Earth as she imagines it, and her feelings on mortality. Because of her death, she never got to live out those imaginings. I was overwhelmingly touched by I Kill for Money, the interview with Tommy the pest exterminator. It’s heartwarming and funny with a tinge of sadness, and Keegan captures a character and a moment with intense perception and skill.

Ultimately, what makes this a good book, is Keegan’s overflowing vitality. She is so full of life, of intense energy for the future. You can hear her hope and her fear in her words – whether fiction or essay – and you see a future as a journalist or writer. She wants to make an impression on the world; she wants to be famous, to wield power, to be an astronaut, or the president, or any of those things we all secretly and not-so-secretly dream of doing ourselves. Remembering your own self at twenty and twenty-one, you see the same sentiments that you believed and felt and hoped.

The writing is still inexperience though – something recognised in the introduction. There are clunky moments that you feel would have been smoothed out if given the chance. If anything, I recommend reading the introduction both before and after; each reading adds a new depth to Keegan’s writings, and her writings are rich and intense. She would have gone far.

“I read somewhere that radio waves just keep traveling outward, flying into the universe with eternal vibrations. Sometime before I die I think I’ll find a microphone and climb to the top of a radio tower. I’ll take a deep breath and close my eye because it will start to rain right when I reach the top. Hello, I’ll say to outer space, this is my card.”

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  1. And the Winner is… #WBOTY14 | House of Blog - […] me, but actually, I wanted this one to win! I had three hands-down favourites from the shortlist (The Opposite…

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