This is a collection of short stories and essays by Marina Keegan, an award-winning author, journalist, playwright, poet, actress, and activist who died in 2012 in a car
accident. She was a graduate of Yale, and her essay “The Opposite of Loneliness” became a global sensation. This book is a compilation of the work that she completed while at Yale and in high school and it shows true promise and it would be fair to say that the world lost a great writer in 2012.
That being said, this book didn’t astound me in the ways that the reviews on the back, quotes on the front cover, and a list of awards that it has won set me up to be astounded. I’ve taken enough undergraduate creative writing workshop courses to recognize the feeling that these pieces give me. These are the pieces that were sent around by a classmate that you have to sit for a few moments after reading that about how good it is, that you’re going to have to dig a little deeper to find a helpful critique, and that the piece is better than what you sent out for the next class. You know that this person will probably go somewhere and write great things someday and that this piece will sit at the pack of their portfolio, a footnote on all the works that they’ve done because it was a stepping stone. It was the start of something. And that is what each of the pieces in this book feels like; the start of something.
In her short stories, everyone was getting high, dealing with unsatisfying marriages, and somehow settling for the cards that they’d been dealt. None of the stories were bad, but they didn’t take me out of myself and allow me to forget about my own problems, they felt predictable. The man writing emails to his “no labels” girlfriend while in Iraq is going to end up running off with his Arabic translator, of course, the husband of the old woman who is reading to a blind man is going to die, and the girl that is upset her boyfriend cheated in Yahtzee! isn’t going to say anything about it and the couple will end up being married by the end of the story. I wasn’t impressed with the stories themselves. But there is always something to be said about the potential, and Keegan knew how to tell a story, when to introduce the conflict, and how to capture the characters reactions.
I was more impressed with her nonfiction. In these essays, Keegan took the mundane and showed readers the fascinating world that created it. From her 1990 Toyota Camry to the Exterminator who is losing his memory I wanted to know how all of the pieces of the essay were fitting together and what I was to take away from them. I think Keegan had an eye for the bigger picture as it exists in the smaller details and is able to convey that in these essays.
Recommendation: If it was 2012, 2013, or even 2014 I would recommend reading this book because it was culturally relevant, people seem to have been talking about it at these times. But it is 2016, and you can probably find these essays through some digging on the internet. It was a quick read, but it felt like an undergraduate creative writing portfolio, you’re not going to be graded for reading these pieces, you’re not going to turn up in class on Wednesday and need to have comments for these pieces, I would save the time and go read something else.