Saturday, June 21, 2014

"The Opposite of Loneliness" by Marina Keegan


A coworker and I decided to try and do a book club over the summer and this was one of the books on her list. My library had it, and I was able to get it right away. It's only 200 pages, and it was due time to stretch myself as a reader. Not necessarily with something complicated, but something out of my comfort zone. A few years back, I decided being a lover of genre fictions was not a bad thing, but with so much stuff out there -- it was nice to have a title "handed" to me. I didn't have to think about what I was going to read next. I let someone else do it for me. 

Sadly, Marina Keegan died in a car accident soon after she graduated from Yale in 2012. We have this strong, and young, voice (and she's not ashamed of her youth -- she charges through with it, unapologetically). That's what made the writing interesting. She wasn't forcing the issue or trying to sound like this "older writer from Yale." 

She was 22 and proud of it. 

The first half of the book is short fiction, while the second half is essays and journalistic pieces. I found the essays and journalism pieces the better half of the book. That's where her voice was strongest.

The characters in her short stories were obviously flawed, didn't know where they were in their lives, and were all in a flow of transition, it seemed. They were uncomfortable, and that made me uncomfortable. There were stories of young love, stories of dead love, old love, a contractor in Iraq and an underwater crew stuck in a submarine that had lost power. They didn't really have a thread that weaved them together, and I wouldn't expect that since these were pieces gathered posthumously. It was like the people she left behind wanted you to get a sampling of all the promise this young writer had, and what she had already accomplished at a young age. 

The essays and journalism pieces were, to me, flawless. One of my favorites was her description of an exterminator. She caught the voice of this man effortlessly. She must've followed this guy around and observed him in his habitat, but she is nowhere to be found in the piece. I also got to be inside the head of an exterminator, an unlikely job, but you know what -- I'm glad there are people out there like this man doing it. 

She also had an interesting piece, this one with her voice all over it, about why Yale students graduate and take on consultation jobs within big business. She showcased how counter-intuitive it was for these graduates, but they kept doing it anyway. 

The best piece of them all is the first one: an essay that stands alone at the beginning of the book title "The Opposite of Loneliness." She describes what community is on the college level and how she was so sad to leave and transition away from all these people. Anybody who has immersed themselves in a college or university for a few years will walk away from that essay realizing how Keegan nailed it, and I longed for being in that academic community once more.