Marina Keegan had just graduated from Yale and had a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. The Opposite of Loneliness is a beautiful collection of her essays and stories that show what a remarkable talent she was.
She writes about the value of community at Yale, how valuable youth is and how much time people have to live out their dreams and the ability they have to start over again. This is something we can all relate to as we wonder what life has in store for us when we leave somewhere, be it a place, a school or a university. We feel we have to decide what’s next for us but Marina is saying it’s OK not to have your house in order right away.
One of her stories has a girl dealing with the death of a boyfriend. She wonders if the relationship meant as much to him as it does to her now. She herself hadn’t fully appreciated what she may have had until it was gone. She’s brilliant at expressing the hopes and angst of youth, with another story telling us so much about a family during a Winter break, with the development of a young relationship contrasted with the deterioration of the relationship of the parents.
I loved the descriptions of the jealousy of a co-star in a boyfriend’s play. She goes through all the emotions as he continues to express his love while talking about the friendship with a fellow actor. The perception of him all changes in a single game, with a simple action saying so much about his character. Her short stories say so much in so little words, one of favourites being a beautiful story of a former ballet dancer reading to a blind man.
She covers many different types of relationships and seems to nail each and every one of them. She changes style by presenting one side of an email exchange from Iraq, where we see the character talk about his commitment to the cause and the many problems he’s facing. He clings on to the hope of every email and dreams of travelling with his girlfriend but this has to be contained for the forseeable future.
She manages to convey so much emotion in every story, whether it’s about returning to an hometown and seeing an old flame, describing living with coeliac disease or conveying the memories attached to an old car, the smell, the experiences and the music. She’s great at getting to the heart of characters like Tommy, a guy that’s full of the banter as he gets down to his pest control work. She questions why we spend so much time saving whales while fish are served up on plates and homeless people are all around us on the streets.
Her journalistic chops are clearly in evidence here. She looks into why around 25 percent of employed Yale graduates enter the consulting or finance industry. She’s idealistic and hopes that more of her peers live out their dreams and fulfill their creativity rather than going down the road so many have travelled.
In her last story she expresses a certain amount of jealousy of anyone that might speak from the grave. It’s a tragedy that Marina wasn’t able to continue her great work. This collection shows a bright young woman that had so much to offer in her ability to express the hopes and dreams of youth and give us a real sense of what it’s like to live out these experiences. Her voice is one that was full of optimism and hope for what could be achieved in the time we have and her published essays and stories have so much to offer to so many.