My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“The Opposite of Loneliness” is a collection of short stories, interviews, and opinion pieces written by Marina Keegan. Man…that is such a bland, run-of-the-mill description for what is genuinely one of the best books I’ve read.
I go pretty easy on the books I review and have given a lot of 4/5 and 5/5 ratings in the short time I’ve been posting reviews here. So much so, I’ve copped some (completely tongue-in-cheek) flak from my boyfriend about my largely defunct rating system. What can I say? I genuinely like a lot of different books and feel they deserve great ratings!
And although I maintain that, I began to see that maybe my tendency to (honestly) generously rate books is letting me down. Because when I finished “The Opposite of Loneliness”, I didn’t feel like 5 stars was enough. I honestly, truly, completely loved this book. I loved reading Keegan’s words and gaining an insight into her thought processes and experiences. I hadn’t been reading for very long before I realised that I felt a weird mixture of awe, admiration, and jealousy towards Keegan. I wanted to be her friend, but also to be her. But that, for more than the usual reasons, can’t happen.
Five days after graduating magna cum laude (with great honour) from Yale University, Keegan was killed in a car accident. Her parents and one of her university professors worked to compile some of her best work, mostly written while she was studying at Yale, and released it posthumously. There is obviously a sense of great sadness underlying the book because of this surrounding context, so if you’re not comfortable with that then maybe don’t read it. Actually, no, forget that. You need to power through and still read this book because it is brilliant.
Keegan’s writing style flows elegantly and easily. She was succinct but managed to strike that balance of still carrying incredibly vivid detail. Even when describing her first car, a hand-me-down from her grandmother, Keegan wrote eloquently, connecting emotions to a topic deemed pretty darn ordinary by most:
“I talked a lot in my car. Thousands of words and songs and swears are absorbed in its fabric, just like the orange juice I spilled on my way to the dentist. It knows what happened when Allie went to Puerto Rico, understands the difference between the way I look at Nick and the way I look at Adam, and remembers the first time I experimented with talking to myself.”
Or that time she saw a mass of beached whales and reflected on why people are so keen to help some but not all:
“I worry sometimes that humans are afraid of helping humans. There’s less risk associated with animals, less fear of failure, fear of getting too involved. In war movies, a thousand soldiers die gruesomely, but when the horse is shot, the audience is heartbroken. It’s the My Dog Skip effect. The Homeward Bound syndrome.”
Without a doubt, the worst thing about reading “The Opposite of Loneliness” is the horrific, gut-wrenching irony. Keegan writes with such pain-staking precision about the unnecessary pressure young people place on themselves to get things done and done perfectly when, really, they have their whole lives to achieve the things they want to:
“We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves. But I feel like that’s okay. We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time.”
Somehow, Keegan managed to perfectly capture a lot of thoughts I (perhaps selfishly?) believed had only crossed my mind. To find out that someone on the other side of the world had felt the exact same soul-crushing anxiety about the future, and the intense desire to make the world a better place, was equal measures comforting and heartbreaking because that someone isn’t around anymore. But, it becomes clear from the way she writes and from the foreword written by her professor, Keegan was a force to be reckoned with when it came to the things she cared about. It is true that the fact that the world has lost such a passionate and talented soul is awful and makes me ache. But it is also true that, through this book, her passions and talents can continue to live and go on to inspire others, even someone on the other side of the world.
Reading “The Opposite of Loneliness” made me want to read more books, to learn more about everything, to talk to more people, to find out their stories, and to have more experiences. In short, it was probably the most inspiring book I’ve read. Please read it.