May 25, 2014

The Opposite of Loneliness: A Review

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I read a book last night that made me feel less silly and less worried. It made me own up to a few things I didn’t want to admit. At the same time I could escape into someone else’s parallel world of battling daily doubts with daily optimism. The book was written by a sharp, deep thinker from New York, who I instantly felt connected to upon reading the first page. This girl was about to graduate Yale, she feels a bit worried, but she is also really great at giving herself pep talks (and by doing so gives the reader a pep talk): it’ll be fine, she says. We’re young. We can do anything.

This girl in the yellow coat with a friendly charm is called Marina Keegan.

In this digital generation we live in it’s possible to feel closer to people we’ve never met IRL, and this happened with this author. But I couldn’t find her on Twitter and couldn’t find any recent work of hers. I Googled her, this new girl I wanted to instantly befriend. A few clicks later, in my parents living room in Devon, I discover that Marina Keegan died in a car crash a few days after her graduation in 2012.

She was on her way to her parent’s house to celebrate her Dad’s 55th birthday when her boyfriend lost control of the wheel. Marina was killed.

With a lump in my throat, I wondered how this book could feel so alive. Her words were tangible. Her ideas were spreading. She was in lots of people’s living rooms, bedside tables, bookshelves, inboxes. And yet, she wasn’t. Isn’t.

Staring at this book in my hands I felt a horrible irony. How could she not be here to write more things? The first page of Google is full of her brilliant articles. It’s also full of condolences from the Huffington Post, NewStateman and New York Times (in which she had an editorial position waiting for her). No one should have a first and last book at this age. 

The first chapter of the book is an introduction to life, and how she’s feeling about her future:

 “What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. The notion that is too late to do anything is comical. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose the sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.”

She ends this passage like this: “We’re in this together, 2012. Let’s make something happen to this world”. 

Knowing what I know it felt hard to read her optimism, but on reflection it’s nothing but inspiring. Anyone who reads this book will be completely catapulted into having a new perspective. Into realising that a “sense of possibility” really is all we have. And we cannot lose it. 

Marina’s short stories are so clever. She dips in and out characters and realistic fictional situations in a genius way. Each short story is completely gripping. It’s like being on a conveyor belt of peeping into stage windows; watching play after play.

The stories are the perfect length to understand the beginning and the end, but at the same time the characters stay with you, because you know you haven’t seen everything. She allows you to really use your imagination; once she’s invited you in, you’re there to stay.

Marina talks about death a lot in her stories. In “Cold Pastoral” a young girl wakes up to find her boyfriend Brian has died, the day after she was in bed with him and closer than ever. She is struggling with the death but also with the ex-girlfriend of Brian who is battling to be more upset than her and ultimately receives more sympathy. Claire finds Brian’s diary in his bedroom and is mortified at what she discovers. In “Reading Aloud” an old woman who attends therapy sessions is phoned, when alone at home, to be told her husband suffered a heart attack. She has memory problems and cannot come to terms with it. 

By reading this beautiful, dark, witty book, it’s almost like we are speed-dating a world of interesting characters. Characters that have aspects of each and everyone one of us. They are everyday characters, they are not perfect, they are flawed, and they do silly things like get into bed fully-clothed or forget to take a towel into the shower or get nervous before work or have ‘fat days’ or have trouble communicating.

She also has characters who hate and who are ridiculously, unnecessarily jealous. When you are having an out-of-body experience of thinking “why am I picking at this? Just stop” but you can’t stop.

They is one character in “The Ingenué” who hates another girl. Hates her. We’ve all hated someone in life and hate can sometimes feel stronger than love, when in the moment. But I’m glad she talks about it. People don’t like talking about people they hate. I know I don’t, but there are definitely people I hate. 

They are honest characters. Marina clearly doesn’t want to involve anything other than what is raw and real into her writing. All my favourite authors abide by that rule.

This book will be living on my book-shelf and read and re-read again until it’s completely dog-eared. It’s a reminder than life is short. That nothing matters other than optimism and joy. That words on a page can connect with people and can be immortalised once you’re gone. That you don’t know what is around the corner, so take the weight off your shoulders, and just be. 

  • I heard about Marina and her book and requested to borrow it from my local library (13th in the queue, gah). I look forward to reading the words of such a promising young writer whom I’m sure I’ll be able to relate to.

My Book

“In love with Emma Gannon’s Ctrl Alt Delete. So funny & smart, and reminding me of some of my own cringe teen Internet exploits!”

– Anna James, former literary editor of ELLE

"Funny, honest, and nostalgic!"

– The Debrief

“Emma Gannon is a bright spark of light in the world. I seriously dig everything she makes”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Big Magic