When Marina Keegan was tragically killed in a car accident in 2012, it was agreed upon that she was a brooding talent who died much too young. Only 22 years old, Keegan had just, five days before the accident, given a speech at her Yale commencement and graduated from one of the most prestigious universities in the United States. And though her death shattered lives, her first and last novel holds an even more important message: do with your lives what you feel important. There’s no use wasting time on unloved adventures.
The Opposite of Loneliness is the title of Keegan’s only published book and the title of her commencement speech for her Yale graduation. After her death, the speech went up online and was viewed a couple million times. In the short speech, Keegan laments about the times well spent at Yale. She talks about the future. About the nights she can no longer look forward to. But most importantly to her, she speaks about how safe she felt at there. Surrounded by some of the best friends that she would ever make.
The first half of The Opposite of Loneliness is filled with selected short stories from Keegan’s career as a writer. Most of them border on realism and real life scenarios, but each of them carry their own special message to the reader. “Reading Aloud” tells the story of an aging women, still trying to find her place in the world. She volunteers as a reader to blind people and finds her place one day with a young gentleman by the name of Sam. “Hail, Full of Grace” tells the story of a romance that is broken, but manages to piece itself together again. “Challenger Deep” presents a difficult situation: a submarine is stuck in a deep ocean trench. Facing deathly odds, the crew must make the right move or face certain disaster. Though some of Keegan’s stories are somewhat similar in their portrayal of a young college students dilemmas, the answers the characters find at the end often help the entire stories shine.
Though not as long as the fiction portion of the book, Keegan’s essay section is without a doubt where her writing shines through. In a fair number of essays she writes on many different topics ranging from the the world at large to why having 25% of Yale’s graduating class enter the finance or consulting field isn’t necessarily a good thing. In “Why We Care About Whales”, Keegan writes a dizzying, almost fiction like account of how whales end up beached because of high tide. In it, she makes the argument that mankind spends thousands of dollars to save these animals, but refuses to spend the same money to save starving humans. She questions the motivations of the people to make these choices. “I Kill For Money”, one of the longer essays present, is a first eye account of a pest exterminator. Keegan accompanies a friendly exterminator on his daily rounds as he takes care of mice and bedbugs. Driving in an unmarked white truck, the exterminator tells Keegan that he doesn’t advertise his presence because he has found no one wants to know he’s around, just like the pests he’s called to take care of. In all the essays found in her only novel, Keegan is always able to humanize and give life to the topic she writes about. She truly believes each of the stories is meant to be told. And that’s what’s so wonderful about her writing, you can really see how passionate she is about it. Keegan writes with great fervor, never stalling, always making progress.
Rating: 4 out of 5 – Though her life was tragically cut short, Marina Keegan’s legacy as a writer will live on through her contributions to the world of art.