Maybe you have heard the story: Marina Keegan was an up-and-comer, a rising literary star. A graduate of Yale University. A writer with pieces published in The New Yorker online and the New York Times, who received multiple prestigious awards, and had a play she wrote produced in the New York International Fringe Festival. She had a job lined up at the New Yorker for after graduation.
And then she died.
5 days after graduating from Yale, Marina was in a fatal car accident. Her graduation essay, The Opposite of Loneliness, received nearly 2 million hits worldwide.
It is hard to separate out my feelings about this book from the fact that I know Marina died tragically young, most of her great potential still untapped. Would I love it so fiercely if I did not know about the circumstances of her life and death? I don’t know. I don’t know if it matters. Part of the reason why the titular essay received so much attention is because it is lyrical and hopeful and lovely, not just because she died. There is something of value in her words that transcends the fact of her death.
The book is comprised of both fiction and non-fiction, and while Marina’s voice carries over nicely to her non-fiction essays, I found that it was her fiction that really resonated with me. Each character, though similar, was also profoundly different, and I found that Marina had a way of describing things that cut right to the heart of reality. There is one story about a crew in a submarine that I am still thinking about, weeks later. There is a lot of hope and optimism to be found in Marina’s work, surrounded by all the muddy workings of regular life. It’s not a world made up of rainbows and puppy dogs, but a real, gritty hope that sat comfortably in my chest and is still there when I look for it now.
I don’t think it matters at all that Marina’s real fame came after her death. I think that her work stands on its own and deserves to be enjoyed, critiqued, devoured, and torn apart, because it is a wonderful and thought-provoking piece of literature. I highly recommend it.