“When a young person dies, much of the tragedy lies in her promises: what she would have done. But Marina left what she had already done: an entire body of writing, far more than could fit between these covers.” – Anne Fadiman
The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories is a compilation of fiction and non-fiction short stories written by Marina Keegan, a brilliant Yale student who died in a car crash, five days after graduation. I began reading The Opposite of Loneliness with my heart ready to break. And it did not disappoint. I only got through the introduction and had to pause because I was so overwhelmed by Marina’s story. Her life was cut so short and it broke my heart. I am amazed by everything she accomplished, even though it makes me feel very unaccomplished myself.
All the fiction stories feel so real; like she is recounting her own life. I’m sure she drew from her own life experiences because her stories had so much life in them. Marina did not shy away from dark materials like death and hopelessness, even desperation. Every story, from Cold Pastoral, about a girl dealing with the death of her almost/ friends with benefits boyfriend, to Hail, Full of Grace about a mother to an adopted newborn, navigating motherhood and struggling with aspects of her past, to Challenger Deep about a submarine crew trapped at thirty-six thousand feet under the ocean, felt so human. Nothing was wrapped up neatly in a bow; the endings were messy and real. They were a reflection of real life. Challenger Deep hit me the hardest because of the desperate and hopeless situation the characters were in. Being stranded in a submarine at the bottom of the ocean, knowing that being rescued is impossible, would be terrifying and Marina brings that terror and shows the different kind of reactions someone would have in a situation like that.
Marina did not romanticize any of the relationships. Not to say she didn’t write about romance though. She wrote some lovely things about romance, and had romantic relationships, but she grounded them in reality, not fairy tales. In The Ingenue a woman wrestles with her jealousy over a woman her actor boyfriend performs with, and in Winter Break, a college freshman comes home for break and while she is in love for the first time, she sees how her parents have not been in love for a long time. The juxtaposition of the two relationships in that story was really meaningful because it had old vs. young, and also brings up the topic of why parents stay together even when they don’t love each other anymore. Like I have said several times so far, these relationships felt so authentic; they are real life issues that parents and children deal with.
The non-fiction section is so diverse. Marina wrote about whales, the Earth’s impending death, Celiac Disease and an exterminator, to name a few. Even though the topics were diverse, her voice stayed the same, always searching for that authenticity and honesty. In Putting the Fun Back in Eschatology Marina addresses the fact that the Earth will die one day, millions of years in the future because our sun is going to die. Out of her non-fiction, this essay is what moved me the most. She managed to put into words the anxiety I feel about my earthly presence. This essay is the best existential crisis, because she adds hope and humor. This is a thread I found stringing together all of her essays. She adds humor, while basically writing about the human condition.
The main reason I love this collection of stories is because of the honesty that Marina wrote with. She seemed to have such a “voice of a generation”. All of her observations (fictions or non-fiction) are so poignant and speak to me, my life, and my dreams.
Everyone should read this book. 21-year–old college kids, 34 year old businessmen, 42-year-old teachers, and 65-year-old retirees, you are all included and can all learn something from Marina’s writing.