The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
Book Riot’s Reader Harder Challenge task accomplished:
Read a collection of essays
This is a book that I would have definitely picked up at the library or book store if I had stumbled upon it. A collection of essays? Love those. A front cover with a pleasing neutral font and a picture of a cool but not-too-chic looking girl on it? Love and love. As I read the introduction, I found myself feeling things. The author of the essays, Marina Keegan, was three years younger than me. Her Yale professor, who wrote the introduction, shared a list of “Personal Pitfalls” that Marina had attached to her final essay. As I read them, I kind of hated her…but mostly because she had written them in the way that I would have, and yet she has a published book and I do not. For example:
“Similes must actually be capable of doing their thing. You can’t ‘curl up like a spoon.
Unusual phrases work better at the end of paragraphs.
I lay an egg, I laid an egg, I have laid an egg. I lie, I lay, I have lain.
Topic indecision – just get over it!
Make sure tenses are consistent.
Don’t use two prepositions in a row.
Don’t get too attached to things. It only took you a minute to write that sentence!
THERE CAN ALWAYS BE A BETTER THING!”1
Some of these are technical writing notes, but those last two are especially good things to keep in mind.
As I continued to read the intro, I learned that 5 days after her Yale commencement, Marina was killed in a car accident. I held in my hands the published works of a woman just barely out of college. A woman who desperately wanted to be a writer, but due to a life cut short, never got herself published. And so her family set to work to get her published.
The book is comprised of a fiction section with nine short stories, and a non-fiction section with eight essays.
Of the short stories, I particularly enjoyed “Reading Aloud,” which depicted an older woman who takes up reading aloud to a young blind man in order to feel useful. The woman always removes her clothing before she begins reading, and redresses right before leaving. It was a really lovely story with vividly painted details.
The nonfiction section was where I felt Marina really hit her stride. In “Why We Care About Whales,” she wrote about why people go so far out of their way to care for beached whales and help them return safely back to see, while they barely reach out a hand to help their neighbor off the ground. In “I Kill for Money,” she follows a real character of a pest-control agent named Tommy on a couple of jobs. And in “Even Artichokes Have Doubts,” I found myself confronted with an issue very recognizable: the selection of a job (in this case, the first job out of college), and the delusions we have about why we take one job or another, how we talk ourselves into jobs that we aren’t passionate about, and a few of the dangers of people continuing to take jobs that they don’t really want just because they will make more money in them.
It was a very quick read, and while I probably wouldn’t go to a bookstore to buy it, I would absolutely borrow it from the library.
1From “Introduction,” The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan, Scribner 2014