Title: The Opposite of Loneliness
Author: Marina Keegan
Genre: Essays and Short Stories / Nonfiction and Fiction
Marina Keegan is a New York Times bestselling author- posthumously. Keegan was excelling in college at Yale University and life when it was tragically cut short. But thankfully, she had compiled many essays and short stories throughout her college years before graduating. Her writing style is well before her time, making this book one you just cannot put down.
The book begins with an introduction from Anne Fadiman, Keegan’s writing professor at Yale, who remarks on the way the young author presented herself in class and in her writings. She mentions the night she had found out Keegan had died in a car accident and the moving memorial service held soon after, attended by many grief-stricken students. Soon after, her essay about graduating, The Opposite of Loneliness, began gaining popularity again. Keegan reiterates again and again how young the graduating class is and what life has in store for all of them. Fadiman comments that although this star student is gone, we still have her writing so she lives on.
After the introduction by Fadiman, readers get to experience Keegan’s notable speech after which the book was named. Short stories of all genres follow the speech, taking readers to different places and people. There are stories with sympathetic characters like Reading Aloud, where an old woman reads to a young blind man and feels accepted in his presence. Or a story like Winter Break, where she perfectly captures feelings any college student has about coming home. Or switching focus completely to read emails from a man stuck in a submarine in Challenger Deep. Each has their own heartbreak, their own story but told in a short number of pages that leaves you wanting more.
The book shifts over to essays halfway through, after the nine previous short stories. Again, Keegan has a variety of topics and style, even in her essays. In Stability in Motion, she explains the relationship with her old beat-up car. She starts off Against the Grain with a list of all the foods she’ll eat before she dies, since her celiac disease prevented her from eating her favorite foods like Krispy Kreme donuts and Big Macs. Or instead, we read a profile on a day in the life of an exterminator in I Kill for Money. These essays feel like short stories in themselves, but feature Keegan’s voice most prominently. She ends the last essay in her book, Song for the Special, with the line, “I read somewhere that radio waves just keep traveling outwards, flying into the universe with eternal vibrations. Sometime before I die I think I’ll find a microphone and climb to the top of a radio tower. I’ll take a deep breath and close my eyes because it will start to rain right when I reach the top. Hello, I’ll say to outer space, this is my card.”
I have never been a fan of non-fiction stories or essays. But through the elegant prose of Keegan, I had a new-found love of essays. Her short stories were fantastic and it was incredible how quickly the stories would pull you in. Non-fiction may be daunting to read for fun but you won’t get bored with this novel at all. Some critics wonder how well the book had done if its author hadn’t died so tragically. I believe it still would have been well-received. I want to read more of Keegan’s work but with “The Opposite of Loneliness,” you learn you have to take what you can get ¬– this book will have to do.