Many of you have likely heard the story of Marina Keegan: Just 5 days after graduating magna cum laude from Yale University, she was killed in a car-crash, a tragic end to a rising star who had a play about to be produced in the New York Fringe Festival and a waiting job at the New Yorker. In the aftermath, her final piece for the Yale Daily News, titled “The Opposite of Loneliness, went viral.
I first read the titular essay “The Opposite of Loneliness” in those few days after Marina’s passing. At that time, mere weeks after graduating from college myself, it was instantly so relatable to me. This was the feeling myself and my friends had tried to verbalize over the last few weeks. Her sentiment, “We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have” has lingered with me since.
Sad and touching is her constant preoccupation with mortality in these works: “We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time.” But she didn’t, nor did many of her characters. From “Challenger Deep”s crew in a drowned, lost submarine to “Why We Care About Whales” about our concern for animal life-cycles over man’s, she examines the human relationship with death. Most haunting is Marina’s piece “Cold Pastoral” about a girl who’s dealing with the death of her college sort-of-boyfriend, later to be eerily mirrored in her own life.
Even more poignant perhaps was the foreword by Marina’s old professor, Anne Fadiman, where she discusses Marina’s possibility – who she was as a person and how her personality impacted her friends and family, and would’ve impacted the world if she had lived. I’m glad that they had an opportunity to work through their grief by compiling these works, even if they weren’t as final as Marina herself might have wanted them to be.
Marina clearly had a privileged upbringing, so much of her fiction and non-fiction alike seem to be drawn from that experience. Unfortunately, that makes many characters sound like her instead of developing disparate voices. I had to remind myself whether I was reading the fiction or non-fiction sections at times. Also, because I don’t typically read short stories so I am unfavorably and unfairly comparing these works to novels, I found the plot structures to be a bit loose and holey, making me feel irritatingly obtuse (“The Ingenue” or “Baggage Claim”).
Her professor stated, “”Marina wouldn’t want to be remembered because she’s dead. She would want to be remembered because she’s good.” But truthfully, my perceptions are strongly colored by the solitary fact that this was a budding author who could’ve been great, who was my contemporary but is not – stagnant at 22 as myself and her classmates continue to develop and grow and change. Other reviewers have called her “the voice of her generation,” an accolade I don’t disagree with, yet her generation has moved on without her.
I’ve struggled with how to rate this, thinking would I have rated it differently if she was still alive? (To add on – would it even have been published if she was still alive? Would I have read it if she was still alive?) I can’t answer these questions, but I finally decided on