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The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories    by Marina Keegan order for
Opposite of Loneliness
by Marina Keegan
Order:  USA  Can
Scribner, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

The Opposite of Loneliness is a collection of short stories and essays written by Marina Keegan before her tragic death in a traffic accident five days after she graduated magna cum laude from Yale. These writings were gathered by her parents, friends, and her former teacher, Anne Fadiman, and they tried to find the most recent version of each, since she was, Anne says in the introduction to this book, a 'demon reviser, rewriting and rewriting and rewriting even when everyone else thought something was done.' The stories are much darker than the essays, and several of them deal with someone's sudden death and how their close friends and relatives cope with the loss. This seems ironic considering her own sudden death at such a young age.

Because Marina was so young when she wrote the short stories, her main characters are mostly also young, but there are a couple of older woman, including Anna, who is the central character in Reading Aloud. Anna is in her sixties, but when she was young she was a dancer, and now she has serious pain in one of her knees and hasn't been able to dance for many years. Although she's married, her husband became bored after he retired and went back to work, so to keep herself busy in his absence, she volunteers to read to a young blind man, Sam, who is in his twenties. As she reads to Sam, she takes off all of her clothes, certain that he can't see what she's doing, and this action seems to relieve some of her feelings of loneliness and getting old. When she was young 'her back could bend and her toes could point, and Anna could do Black Swan's thirty-two fouettés en tournant without moistening her leotard - spinning and tucking on a single slipper. Aging is harder for beautiful people, and Anna was beautiful.'

Although Marina's stories are about death and loss, her essays are more cheerful and optimistic. In The Opposite of Loneliness, which was her last essay that was published in the Yale Daily News, she talks about the 'not quite love and not quite community' that all of the students experienced at Yale, and she names this 'web we're in' the opposite of loneliness. Later she talks about the fears that they have as they graduate from college about what they're going to do with their lives and about whether they've made the right choices so far. But she adds, 'What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over ... We're so young.'

Marina's essays run the gamut from her car, which came to her when she was sixteen from her grandmother and went through a transformation from a tidy, pristine automobile to a messy, trash-strewn teenager's transport, to Song for the Special, in which she muses about how each generation and each person believes themselves to be special. In Against the Grain, she describes her own frustration with having the foods she's allowed to eat limited by her Celiac Disease, and in Even Artichokes Have Doubts, she worries about why 25% of Yale grads go into consulting or finance, rather than something that really excites them. There are a couple of essays dealing with death, although in these she is talking about the sun's death and the bugs and rodents that are an exterminator's victims.

For Marina, sadly, her possibilities came to an end shortly after her graduation. Reading this book, though, I came to believe that other people might be inspired by her words in these stories and essays. The writing is beautiful and engaging, a brief glimpse into the mind of an intelligent and empathetic young woman.

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