Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Books

A published afterlife: Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness

by Carody Culver , August 12, 20142 Comments

1397733525000-TheOppositeOfLoneliness-600

In 2012, Marina Keegan looked set for literary stardom. The 22-year-old had graduated magna cum laude from Yale and was about to start a job at The New Yorker; she’d already interned at The Paris Review and a musical on which she had collaborated was being produced at the New York International Fringe Festival. For an aspiring writer, her credentials were so perfect they could have been lifted straight from fiction; but just five days after graduating, Marina was killed in a car crash.

Within days of her death, Marina’s commencement speech, ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’, had drawn over 1.4 million views online. It was just one piece in a sizeable collection of work: Keegan had penned essays, short fiction and poems, and her loved ones’ efforts to collate these writings culminated in the recent publication of a book that bears the title of Keegan’s internet-famous speech, the words of which appeared to inspire people of all ages.

It’s almost impossible to separate the content of The Opposite of Loneliness from its context. In her introduction, writer Anne Fadiman – one of Marina’s teachers at Yale – notes that, ‘When a young person dies, much of the tragedy lies in her promise: what she would have done. But Marina left what she had already done: an entire body of writing, far more than could fit between these covers’. However, Fadiman concedes that none of this work ‘was in exactly the form [Marina] would have wanted to publish’ because ‘she was a demon reviser, rewriting and rewriting and rewriting even when everything else thought something was done’.

It seems a shame, really, to read Marina’s work in light of her promise rather than its fulfilment, and reading The Opposite of Loneliness feels borderline voyeuristic and slightly unfair – how different might Keegan’s book have been if she’d been alive during the publication process? Her death casts a sombre shadow over her work: ‘We’re so young’, she wrote in her title essay. ‘We have so much time.’ The first story, ‘Cold Pastoral’, is particularly uncanny in its themes and subject – the sudden death of a college student.

As you’d expect for a collection of pieces that probably aren’t in their author’s intended final form, The Opposite of Loneliness is slightly uneven and difficult to read objectively; nonetheless, it’s an assured and poignant anthology. Marina was a graceful but honest prose stylist, remarkably good at inhabiting diverse fictional voices: her protagonists range from the expected (a college student in the first flush of love; a young woman reflecting on the moment that changed her relationship) to the challenging (an elderly former ballerina; an officer stationed in Iraq’s Green Zone). Her fiction deals with weighty themes – love and its loss, grief, growing old – but she often brings a lightness of touch and flashes of wit to her sombre subject matter.

Marina’s non-fiction is slightly less assured, and her essays – which traverse everything from the sympathy evoked by beached whales to coeliac disease and the interior of her first car – are often earnest and more immediately shaped by her own experience than her fiction. But her observations are thoughtful and well-constructed, and suggest her maturity and her capacity to analyse and question the world around her and her place within it.

The Opposite of Loneliness is a memorable and touching book, if partly for the wrong reasons – namely, its author’s tragic demise. Marina’s death is, perversely, a sadly compelling one in which to situate her creative output, and we can only wonder at what she would have gone on to produce if not for fate’s untimely intervention. ‘We’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves’, she wrote in her commencement speech. Marina’s ‘perfect’ self – the incredibly promising young writer, the rising literary star – is frozen in time forever, and perhaps it’s only fitting that her potential be memorialised in print, however imperfect she might have found the results had she lived to look back on them.

Carody Culver is a Brisbane-based freelance writer, editor and part-time bookseller. 

ACO logo




2 thoughts on “A published afterlife: Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness

  1. It’s kind of how I felt when I read Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. The feeling the world had been deprived of a talent. Except in Irene’s case, it was the Holocaust that got in the way of her finishing her story.

  2. Dear Carody,
    Your words ring true. Marina would have heartily agreed . You would have enjoyed each other.
    Regards,
    Tracy Keegan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

only-the-animals-book-cvr

Claire Hielscher

A joyous deception: Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals

In visual art, the compulsion to surrender to the belief you are falling either into or out of an image is known as trompe-l’oeil, French for ‘deceive the eye’. Ceridwen Dovey’s story collection Only the Animals encourages a comparable state of joyous deception. Read more »

9781555976712

Carody Culver

Everybody hurts: Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams

There’s a difference between identifying someone’s malady – or lack thereof – and understanding their experience of it. To what extent can we truly imagine being in another person’s skin? Read more »

1560682_10153899026420591_499501666_n

Eli Glasman

Just a number: The literary world’s obsession with age

I used to be obsessed about what age I would be when I had my first novel published. I’d go on the Wikipedia pages of every famous writer I could think of to check how old they were when their first book came out. Read more »

blue-ombr-speckle-liner

Julia Tulloh

From the outside in: the beauty vlogger phenomenon

A current cohort of beauty bloggers are helping to break down distinctions between internal and external expressions of self in ways that allow them to generate new ideas of beauty on their own terms, rather than according to society’s expectations of what women (or men) should look like. Read more »

The Tunnel TV review

Julia Tulloh

The Tunnel vs The Bridge: The ethics of TV remakes

A body is found in the Eurotunnel, neatly laid across the border between France and England. When police attempt to move the body, it splits in two with the top half in France and lower half in England. Read more »

1398878478_lea-michele-brunette-ambition-zoom

Julia Tulloh

How to be beautiful, according to Lea Michele

Lea Michele’s new book, Brunette Ambition, is what you might expect from a fairly young television and musical theatre star. Read more »

stepup5poster

Anthony Morris

Let’s Dance: unapologetic repetition and Step Up: All In

A franchise of movies based entirely around good-looking people performing unlikely and oddly aggressive dance moves wouldn’t seem to require heavy continuity – or any continuity at all – but Step Up: All In is surprisingly effective. Read more »

lead_large

Rochelle Siemienowicz

On Boyhood, parenting and the passing of time

Since its premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival, film critics have been falling over themselves to lavish love upon Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Read more »

wetlands_poster

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Lucky Dip Diving: an approach to film festivals

I wanted to let go of the grasping desire to watch everything and be part of every conversation. But with the Melbourne International Film Festival in full swing, anxieties arise again. Read more »

Streisand_Estate

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Don’t Look: The emergence of Streisand criticism

In the wake of the recent nude celebrity photo leak, I noticed something strange about the ways different publications skewed their coverage. Tabloid-style publications tended to be honest about their motives. The behaviour of left-leaning broadsheet-style outlets, however, was more complex. Read more »

owl1

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Speaking with pixels

On the Facebook Newsfeed, it’s now possible to click a tiny smiley face inside almost any textbox to bring up a series of thumbnail images: an alligator bawling into a tissue, say, or a whistling fox dropping a turd, or a green owl vomiting rainbows. Read more »

hbo-silicon-valley

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Silicon Valley will eat itself

At a certain point in the lifespan of any subculture, fiction and reality start to blur. Members of the subculture begin to model their character and appearance on the idealised representations of themselves they read about or see on screen. Read more »

9780987507013

Review: The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew

This is a coming out story but one that desperately needed to be told on two counts – one because it’s an Australian YA coming-out story, and two because it’s a coming-out story about a young man questioning his homosexuality alongside his Jewish faith. Read more »

Untitled

Danielle Binks

How to buy books for young adults

‘Excuse me, where are the boys’ books? I’m looking to buy for a 16-year-old.’ When I overheard this question while browsing in a bookshop recently, I felt insta-rage. Read more »

detail

Danielle Binks

Fan-Girling Over Super Heroines

The testosterone-fuelled BIFF! BANG! KAPOW! of classic comics can seem uninviting, filled with spandex-clad men and swooning damsels who hold limited appeal outside the stereotypical 18-35 year-old male demographic. But things are changing in the world of comics. Read more »

free-u2-album-on-itunes

Chad Parkhill

The Perpetual Undeath of Rock

 ‘Hey hey, my my, rock and roll can never die.’ Depending on your own tastes and cognitive biases, Neil Young’s famous lyric will now seem more prophetic than ever before – or profoundly misguided. Last week saw the release of U2’s Songs of Innocence in what Apple … Read more »

arthur-russel-beckman

Chad Parkhill

Calling out of context: The perennial appeal of Arthur Russell

When Arthur Russell died in 1992 at the age of forty, he did so in relative obscurity, having released four commercially unsuccessful albums and granted a single print interview: not exactly a promising oeuvre on which to build a legacy. Read more »

Jabberwocky1

Chad Parkhill

The carnival is over

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Read more »

please-like-me

Stephanie Van Schilt

Mental illness and Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me

While the jury is still out on the success of Please Like Me’s efforts to address ideas around mental health, the discussions both its seasons have provoked and continue to encourage are incredibly important. That, I definitely like. Read more »

DP

Stephanie Van Schilt

Idle hands and Devil’s Playground: Going to the movies to watch TV

I recently went to the movies to watch TV. I bid a reluctant farewell to the comforts of my couch and heater and ventured into the frosty evening in search of Devil’s Playground. Read more »

2014-07-03-theleftovers

Stephanie Van Schilt

TV pilots: The good, the bad and The Leftovers

With the wealth of shows on offer, committing to a new TV series can feel like a big deal. It’s often during a pilot episode that audiences determine whether the program is appealing enough to stick with for the long haul. Read more »