‘The Opposite of Loneliness’ – Young Writers etc.

Last week in a moment of procrastination I went to the library and took out The Opposite of Loneliness,  a collection of essays and stories written by the late Marina Keegan. This book has been on my radar for about a year now, when I read about it in the New York Times book review, which proclaimed Keegan to be an incredible talent for someone her age, or something along those lines.

I remember being particularly struck by the fact that so many book reviewers were astounded by Keegan’s age; “The loveliest piece of writing I’ve ever seen from someone so young…” “…contains the keen observations of a short lifetime – and the wisdom of a much longer one.” “In her brief life, Marina Keegan managed to achieve a precocious literary master.” “…after a young writer’s death, her words soar. …The prose, polished but thoroughly unselfconscious, is heartbreaking evidence of what could have been.” All of these various comments from reviewers, quoted on the inside sleeve of the book, are undoubtedly showering Keegan’s work with praise. However, what bothers me is that they all focus on the fact that she was young, as though they are surprised that someone under thirty could be a profound, thoughtful writer.

In many ways it feels as though younger generations are continually viewed as knowing less than older generations, simply because they haven’t been alive as long. I’m not arguing with this fact, because I don’t disagree with it. Instead, I’m arguing with the idea that age brings talent, or a more defined voice. To be completely frank, I don’t think this is the case. There is a difference between having more life experience, and simply having a knack for something. More life experience will definitely give someone a larger perspective, and allow them to aptly use different skills, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone with less life experience can’t be just as skilled at something.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I think Keegan’s work should be praised simply because it is good, not because she was young. However, I also recognize the fact that this book was published as a result of her untimely death to honor her memory, and if she were still alive today she may very well have published other works based solely on merit, not on hype. Do you know what I mean? Her personal story makes for a great way of introducing the book, and creates enough mystique about an immensely talented young writer who died years before her time, that many people want to read it! There’s just something about that type of tragedy that people are drawn to.

But enough of my ranting; I also wanted to write about this book because it is excellent. As a current senior in college, a lot of her essays ring true for me, with themes of focusing on the present, as well as being okay with not knowing exactly where you will be in a year. These themes can carry over to all ages, though, which is why I would recommend it to just about anyone.

Keegan’s life story also resounds with me on a personal level. In May of 2012, she graduated from Yale University. One month later, I graduated from high school. As I was preparing to enter my next stage of life in college, she was preparing to enter the mythical “real world”. You know, the “real world” that we are told about our whole childhoods, whether it is hidden behind the mask of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or more blatantly when we are told that we can’t get away with certain things once we become fully fledged adults. While I was able to enter my freshman year of college in the fall of 2012, though, Keegan never got the chance to experience the “real world”. She was killed in a car accident five days after graduating college, and was never able to begin work at the New Yorker, where she had been hired.

As one of the reviewers up above said, “what could have been” with Keegan is haunting, and sad. However, based on her writing, it is clear that Marina was a hopeful person. The title of the book is the same as that of an essay she wrote as her final post while editor in chief of the Yale Daily News, addressed to her graduating class. “We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness,” Keegan writes,  “but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life.” Well, I doubt there is anyone who is unable to identify with that sentiment. As Keegan describes her experience at Yale, “this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together,” I can certainly relate. Likewise, I can confirm the feeling of fear associated with losing that feeling next year, but I hope to take her words to heart, “We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I’d say that’s how I feel at Yale. …In love, impressed, humbled, scared. And we don’t have to lose that.”

I can only hope that I’ll be able to carry that idea with me as I finish up my last year of college and beyond, but I also hope that by writing about it here, you who read this blog will decide to pick up the book! Who can’t benefit from hearing their inner thoughts so eloquently written out? And by someone so young as well! Like I said, age doesn’t necessarily always translate to wisdom, but I suppose we can all acknowledge that this essay is coming from the viewpoint of a young person, who most of the time tries to remain neutral. 😉

Keegan’s best selling book shows her on the cover, in a yellow coat that can be described as “happy” and “hopeful”, the epitome of youth.

-Hadley Gibson

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