Goodreads synopsis: Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash. As her family, friends, and classmates, deep in grief, joined to create a memorial service for Marina, her unforgettable last essay for the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits. She had struck a chord. Even though she was just twenty-two when she died, Marina left behind a rich, expansive trove of prose that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation. The Opposite of Loneliness is an assemblage of Marina’s essays and stories that, like The Last Lecture, articulates the universal struggle that all of us face as we figure out what we aspire to be and how we can harness our talents to make an impact on the world.
This is one of those books that I’ve wanted to read for a while and was afraid that somehow I’d never get to it, but here we are. I didn’t initially realize that in included fiction stories. I am not a huge fan of short stories, and I have written only three in my life, all for creative writing classes. I think the only really remarkable story was the last one, “Challenger Deep,” about a submarine crew stuck at the bottom of the ocean with no hope of rescue. And I think it was only remarkable because the topic was so sad, but Marina’s writing did not wow me. In fact, it bothered me a bit. For example, she omits commas that should precede coordinating conjunctions joining two independent clauses. I think sometimes that comma can be omitted for a certain effect regarding flow, but she never uses it, and that drove me crazy.
Her non-fiction essays were what I was most looking forward to, and I definitely enjoyed them far more than the fiction. I enjoyed them all, in fact, though some more than others. The last essay, “Song for the Special,” resonated with me in an odd way. She talks about being afraid that she’ll never accomplish much and feeling jealous of other people for accomplishing more than her, which is exactly how I feel all the time…about people like her. “Even Artichokes Have Doubts” stood out to me as well. Although a lot of it was actually quite boring and a little repetitive, I got the message: becoming an adult and entering the workforce is hard, and a lot of people are selling out for big, fancy consultant jobs. I thought this was interesting because I think, technically, my job is a type of consulting. People consult me on their grammar usage and sentence structure. Yet, the money I make is pocket change, not a sustainable salary at all. It made me feel better about my struggles when she talked about the difficulties of finding a job. I wanted to shout back at the book, Yes, you’re right! It is so hard! We want it to be like applying for college, but it isn’t. It’s a thousand times more complicated and more stressful.
I went back and forth between 3 and 4 stars for a while before settling on 4. While I did not love her fiction, her essays somehow felt like they were written just for me. It was so odd to read this girl talk about her future plans, knowing that that future was never going to come. I wonder if I would have ever heard of her, ever read anything by her if she had lived a long life.
In other news, as of today I have finished my annual Goodreads challenge of reading 50 books each year! According to Goodreads’s calculator, I was “seven books ahead of schedule,” which is funny because for most of the year I was several books “behind schedule.” I guess becoming effectively unemployed will do that to you. Just because I finished my challenge doesn’t mean I plan on reading any less, though! I will still be reading and posting reviews as often as possible. Yay for accomplishments.