“The Opposite of Loneliness” by Marina Keegan: hopeful but bittersweet narratives

In 2012, Marina Keegan was on pace to greatness when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale University. With a B.A. in English as well as a wide portfolio of writing under her belt, she was well on her way to the beginning of a life outside college with a position waiting for her at The New Yorker. Sadly, Keegan never got to live up to her highest potential when a car crash took her life merely five days after her graduation ceremony, at the age of 22.

In honor of her memory, 2014 saw the release of a number of her essays and short stories in a collection called “The Opposite of Loneliness.”

Opening with her essay of the same name that had already amassed more than 1.4 million views in the Yale Daily News prior to the book’s release, the book first delves into a world that I can see being very relate-able, often featuring college-aged young adults who are in generally happy points in their lives but contemplate on the melancholy tinge to them. Other stories feature older adults who, at times, reflect back on that point in their lives, and consider the what-ifs to where they are in life currently.

The authenticity of questioning and the sense of lack of direction is there, for Keegan was at the crossroads of full-blown adulthood when many of these stories were written. But they are done in a way that is thoughtful and deeply engaging, almost as if she were writing with the mindset of a 22-year-old, but with the voice of someone much older.

In her essays, we are exposed to the young woman who left behind an incredible legacy to her fellow classmates and alumni. We meet someone who has as many flaws as one can find within themselves. We encounter someone whose firsts (i.e. first car, first kiss, etc.) resonate significant ripples in her memories even long after the moment has passed. But at the same time, we see how Keegan used her brain actively to contemplate the bigger, deeper subjects in life, such as why we care so much more about the lives of whales than our fellow man, and what could happen to the legacies we leave behind when the sun burns out one day.

What may be trippy about her essays is the number of times the subject of death is brought up, such as when her grandfather died, when beached whales die, when the sun explodes and wipes out everything on the earth’s surface, and her imaginative scenario of eating all her favorite foods that she otherwise shouldn’t eat- thanks to a particular ingredient called gluten- while on her death bed.  In a weird way, it’s almost as if she knew that her life would come to a sad, early end.

That’s the white elephant in the room as I consider how this book I read is the only one that will ever be published under her name. However, the content she left behind is so engaging, you almost forget this fact. Keegan already had so much potential as a writer at the age of 22, and the works found in “The Opposite of Loneliness” demonstrate just how.


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