Fantasy author Brian Staveley once told me he was haunted by the yellow coat on the cover of The Opposite of Loneliness, and for good reason – he was one of Marina Keegan’s high school teachers. He knew her before the rest of the world knew her. The Opposite of Loneliness would never had been published had Marina Keegan not been killed in a car accident shortly after her college graduation. But because she did, we, the world, and specifically millennials, have a tome of her works to pour over and continually hypothesize about what could have been.
An affecting and hope-filled posthumous collection of essays and stories from the talented Yale graduate whose title essay captured the worlds’ attention in 2012 and turned her into an icon for her generation.
The Opposite of Loneliness is a book that should not exist. The Opposite of Loneliness is the book that I’m glad I didn’t write. These two statements may sound contradictory and my logic and reasoning are complex and circular to say the least. But most importantly, damn can Marina Keegan write. Could. Marina Keegan could write.
Marina Keegan is the new enigma and “could have, would have, should have world of possibilities” now haunting my mind. Her fiction is the writing of a slightly angsty, yearning-to-be-edgy college student exploring the themes of young love, changing families and drug use. She explores complex themes and extended metaphors that a fellow millennial can relate to. Her work, though, sadly leaves so much room for more. There is always room for more to the story. Her work doesn’t end neatly and cleanly wrapped up with a bow on top but open-ended and messy. By all accounts, her life was stereotypical in many ways, her experiences perfectly relatable which leads her fiction into a trap. She doesn’t have the life experience to make it credible.
Following the dozen or so fiction stories come some hard hitting and brainy non-fiction works, including the one about the artichokes that set Wall Street and the world of post-graduate consulting firms and hedge funds on edge. But my favorite, is “Stability in Motion,” Marina Keegan’s ode to her car. There’s a special bond that a teenage girl forges with her car and everything Marina said rang true of my experience as well. I think it’s funny that of all the pieces included, it was that one that stood out to me most. Marina’s writing is sarcastic and sharp, a literature or English professor’s dream. Unfortunately, she’ll never have the chance to grow, to evolve. She will always be a good college writer but held to the standards of what she could have been. The Opposite of Loneliness is worth a read for millennials, but I fear others just might not “get it.”
Marina Keegan, author of The Opposite of Loneliness, and I were born 39 days and 400 miles apart (I was first and further south). By a stroke of luck and the persistence of my mother, I wound up in the graduating college class of 2011 and Marina in the class of 2012. I went to the University of Pittsburgh, Marina to Yale (though I applied, I didn’t have the necessary background and stature required for admission as Marina did). I moved to southeastern Pennsylvania 5 days after my college graduation on May 1, 2011. A year later, five days after her own graduation, Marina died in a car accident.
I don’t know what I was doing on May 26, 2012 – it was the Saturday before Memorial Day, odds are I was shopping or possibly helping my grandmother get ready for her annual picnic to be held that Monday. I didn’t feel any great cosmic shift in the universe, I just went about my business on a typical, hopefully warm, May Saturday. But on that day, Marina Keegan died. And my millennial generation lost a giant that we weren’t even aware of, a literary giant who had spent the last two years of her life sitting in the hallowed halls of my dream school, doing what I love to do more than anything – writing. Writing stories, essays, everything. Marina put a voice to the generation who isn’t sure what they want to do with their lives but is sure of one thing – we wish to make a difference.
I’m heartbroken that Marina’s death is what brought her work to the masses, I’m heartbroken that I can never stand in line at Book Con or an NYC Barnes & Noble hopping up and down excitedly on the balls of my feet, anxiously waiting to meet her and ask her to sign my book. Anxiously waiting to tell her how much I identify with her writing and then getting tongue tied when the moment arrives (invariably this happens to me anytime I meet anyone I really respect in the literary world).
I flew through The Opposite of Loneliness and it was like reading a letter from a long-distance friend. I realized, while reading, that Marina said all the things I was never brave enough to say in college and that the way her professors described her is probably very similar to how mine would have described me. Would Marina and I have been friends if I went to Yale? Probably not – we seem to be too similar – but we would have respected each other, of this I am certain.
Marina’s path represents, to me, one of my many paths not taken. I’ve been writing like a fiend since I was 12, but never thought to do so as a career except for a marvelous three months while studying film at Pitt and indulging in my screenwriting passion and then realizing that I’d never take a screenwriting class at Pitt (long story…) – I wasn’t heartbroken, I moved on to history and theater and political science and studio arts – my interests were (and still are) quite varied. But there is always a thought that strikes me every time I start teaching a new writing class – I absolutely cannot imagine a world without writing. I cannot imagine not having the opportunity to put pen to paper and tell a story or share my thoughts. Such a world is incomprehensible and I’d rather, well, I don’t know what I’d rather, but I refuse to bear witness to such an atrocity as the world without writing.
And that brings me to my ever-eventual point of tying everything in my life back to education. Without writing, without a strong literary culture, the world would have never cultivated the great mind and talent of Marina Keegan. So, I plead with schools, never forsake the written word. Never give up on teaching 2nd graders the importance of writing.
Rating: Essays 8 out of 10 stars, Short Stories 6 out of 10 stars
Edition: Paperback • $15.00 • 9781476753911 • 256 pages • first published April 2014, this edition published April 2015 by Scribner Book Company • average Goodreads rating 3.82 • read in May 2015