The Opposite of Loneliness

I’d like to think that I provide pretty good book recommendations, when pressed. (You know. When I DON’T go blank and forget every book I’ve ever read and the only thing that sticks out is some book that I loathed, so I blurt out, Izzy, Willy Nilly? Have you ever read that? Try it. Then they associate me with some book I actually hated.)

So, here is a book recommendation that I am poised to give. One that you should probably go out and get tomorrow. One that you should probably pay the utmost attention to.

Actually, to call this particular collection of words a “book” is to make it base. It’s a life’s work. I could probably never do it justice and overrate it at the same time.

It’s called The Opposite of Loneliness. And before I tell you about the story, I need to tell you this “story.”

Marina Keegan was a student at Yale. She was a writer in the broadest sense: a poet, a playwright, even dabbling in nonfiction. She won awards for her work and saw some of it published in The New Yorker and The New York Times. Upon her graduation, she addressed her classmates in an essay, entitled “The Opposite of Loneliness” that became an instant success. She died in a car accident five days later. Not even a week after she had worn a cap and gown, an entire lifetime of success ahead of her, she was gone.

And so, her parents picked up the pieces. They took a hard look at her body of work. They put it together between a binding, and they sold it so that others could come to know their daughter intimately. Despite the flaws that she probably would have revised and edited out of her work, her parents sent Marina’s final message out into the world. I am so glad that they did.

Because they could have been selfish. They could have decided that it was too large of an undertaking to assess what to put in a final book about Marina. No one could have blamed them if they had shied away and withdrawn into their grief.

But they didn’t. And really, they couldn’t have gone wrong with anything they picked. Yes, every page “throbs with what could have been” as one critic said, but Marina will always be recognized for her talent, whether she is here or not. Although she could have been so much more, her impact is great and awesome in the traditional sense of both words.

The book is a mix of her poetry, her fiction, and her nonfiction. But really, it is made of flesh, blood, and bone. Marina’s symbolism is both painfully obvious and overwhelmingly succinct. When you read her words, you feel an undeniable connection to her, but also the human race. She seems to embody what humans could be, if we free ourselves from our inhibitions. She was a better version of us all.

Everything about this book is difficult, mind you. It is hard to see how much talent Marina had. It is hard to hear her talk about her own death, when she thinks it will be years away, like we all do. It is hard to hear her talk about all the things that scared her, excited her, angered her. (I mean, it is especially hard because I am sitting here trying to find matching socks when we have shooting stars like Marina in the world.)

But we owe her that at least. We owe her an audience.

So, pick up Marina Keegan’s book The Opposite of Loneliness. Cry through it like I did. Be haunted by it. Loathe it a little. Love it a lot. But when someone asks you for a good book recommendation, pass it on. Give Marina what we all need in this life and the next: someone to listen.

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