Date finished: February 5, 2019
The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan
I have really mixed feelings about this book. While Keegan was an admirable writer and student and has become something of an icon for twentysomethings, her stories and writing reflect her age and inexperience. Her death was an absolute tragedy and her essay “The Opposite of Loneliness” deserves all the praise it’s received, but her short stories lack depth, editing, and purpose.
The Opposite of Loneliness compiles 18 essays and short stories that Keegan wrote in her college years:
The nonfiction essays (especially the title piece, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” which went viral after her death) tend to be much stronger than her fictional attempts. “Against the Grain,” which details Keegan’s struggle with celiac disease and its effect on her relationship with her mother, was particularly memorable, as was “Even Artichokes Have Doubts,” an eye-opening piece about making decisions for life after college graduation. Notable also is “Stability in Motion,” about Keegan’s reliance on and relationship with her hand-me-down first car.
The fictional stories, on the other hand, left much to be desired. I was so excited by the concept for “Challenger Deep,” in which a submarine has lost electricity and its crew is forced to live out their days in complete darkness while they wait to run out of food, but the arc fell flat. My favorite stories were “Cold Pastoral,” an effecting piece about a college student whose casual boyfriend dies and she’s forced to awkwardly deal with the loss — as well as his grieving ex-girlfriend, and “Reading Aloud,” in which a young woman finds solace in her relationship with a blind man after she and her husband begin to grow apart.
I’d perhaps recommend this one to college-age writers who are looking for inspiration from peers — primarily for the essays, but Keegan’s stories are not exemplary of the short story genre. For life-changing short stories, see Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies or Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties.
Photo courtesy @mmaarthaareads (Instagram)