Nov 30, 2016

The Opposite of Loneliness, by Marina Keegan

Marina Keegan had recently graduated from Yale in 2014 when she was killed in a car crash. Only a week or so beforehand, she'd published the titular essay of this collection in which she exclaimed that she and her fellow graduates were "just so young," and that they had so much time in which to live their lives. I've read plenty of dead authors, and some of those works were written at the end of the authors' lives. The difference, of course, is that they generally knew it. They were dying of cancer, or heart disease, or old age. So when Keegan's essays and stories hint at or loudly proclaim their nervous excitement for the rest of her life, it catches at your heart. Keegan had already written for the New York Times, interned at The Paris Review, and had her plays performed. Her professors were astounded by her, her classmates looked up to her. So when her death occurred mere days after publishing "The Opposite of Loneliness," the essay went viral. This compilation of essays and short stories was put together by her family and professors as a testament to Keegan's youthful talent, so her name might be remembered.

Keegan's fiction is very slice-of-life, which I'll admit isn't quite my taste. The last story, however, is absolutely chilling and brilliant. "Challenger Deep" follows a deep sea submarine crew that is in crisis. Their ballast tanks blew, they've fallen to the bottom of an abyssal trench, and though their power is on, the lights don't work. They have been in complete darkness for days, then weeks. They have rations for six months, and only a slim chance of rescue. The story is incredibly emotional, and the imagination it took to write about what humans in complete darkness must feel is amazing.

The essays are well-formed, though like the stories, only one really stood out to me. "I Kill For Money," wherein Keegan profiles a cheerful exterminator, is emotionally illuminating and a pleasure to read. I hate to say that I liked it best because there's so little of her in it, but that is one of the biggest distinctions between it and the other essays. I think that getting out of her head allowed her creativity to flow more freely.

It truly is a shame that we won't get to watch Marina Keegan develop as a writer. Though I didn't love all her pieces, she was clearly very talented and by all accounts had the drive to really accomplish something with her writing. I'm glad this book at least will be her legacy.

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