GONE too soon

Tal­ented young writer’s work pub­lished in post­hu­mous collection

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Bev San­dell Green­berg

‘WE’RE so young. We’re so young... We have so much time.” This ex­cerpt from an es­say by Ma­rina Kee­gan was pub­lished in a spe­cial edi­tion of the Yale Daily News and dis­trib­uted at the 2012 com­mence­ment ex­er­cises when she grad­u­ated from Yale summa cum laude. Sadly, Kee­gan was killed in a car ac­ci­dent on Cape Cod, five days af­ter grad­u­a­tion, en route to her fa­ther’s birth­day party. A writer, play­wright and so­cial ac­tivist, Kee­gan had al­ready achieved some de­gree of lit­er­ary suc­cess by the age of 22. One of her short sto­ries had been pub­lished in The New Yorker and she was sup­posed to start a job with its ed­i­to­rial depart­ment a few weeks af­ter grad­u­a­tion. In ad­di­tion, a mu­si­cal she wrote was ac­cepted by the New York In­ter­na­tional Fringe Fes­ti­val. Af­ter her death, her es­say, The Op­po­site of Lone­li­ness, pub­lished on the web, went vi­ral with more than 1.4 mil­lion hits and was later reprinted in The New York Times. Al­most two years later, Kee­gan’s writ­ing is pub­lished posthu­mously in this ab­sorb­ing collection of fic­tion and non-fic­tion. The first half of the book con­tains her spare, lu­cid short sto­ries, many of them echo­ing au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal el­e­ments such as univer­sity set­tings and the Gen­er­a­tion Y pro­tag­o­nists and their sense of angst. In Win­ter Break, the hero­ine states, “I didn’t know what I wanted. Cig­a­rette holes had started spot­ting the sides of my skirts and the se­mes­ter had re­fined a pro­fun­dity to the world that I could pho­to­graph or turn into a bad poem.” First pub­lished in The New Yorker, Cold Pas­toral fo­cuses on a young fe­male stu­dent strug­gling to cope with the un­timely death of her boyfriend. Af­ter in­ad­ver­tently dis­cov­er­ing his jour­nal, she must then con­front her mis­per­cep­tions of their re­la­tion­ship. The In­genue deals with a young woman who at­tends the fi­nal per­for­mances of a play in which her boyfriend has the lead, suc­cumb­ing to jeal­ousy be­cause of the at­ten­tion he lav­ishes on his fe­male co-star. Two of the sto­ries, Read­ing Aloud and Scle­rother­apy, re­volve around fe­male baby boomers. In both cases, the char­ac­ters must re­assess their lives and cope with change as a re­sult of in­ci­dents that be­fall them. The Emer­ald City is a 21st-century epis­to­lary tale. The nar­ra­tive con­sists ofo emails writ­ten by an Amer­i­can sol­dier in Bagh­dad to his girl­friend in the United States. At the out­set, he re­ceives a pro­mo­tion to deputy hous­ing sec­re­tary and is given an of­fice in the for­mer palace of Sad­dam Hus­sein. Through­out the piece, Kee­gan aptly cap­tures the weird­ness of the set­ting, the ten­sion of liv­ing there and the pro­tag­o­nist’s de­te­ri­o­rat­ing men­tal state. Mid­way through the book, read­ers are treated to a se­ries of Kee­gan’s es­says on a wide range of topics, in­clud­ing whales, ex­ter­mi­na­tors, the fu­ture of the uni­verse and ag­gres­sive tac­tics used by fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions to re­cruit grad­u­ates. Re­gard­less of the sub­ject mat­ter, Kee­gan’s breezy style and depth of anal­y­sis ren­der her writ­ing lively and thought-pro­vok­ing. A few of the es­says ad­dress per­sonal is­sues. In Against the Grain, Kee­gan in­forms us about celiac dis­ease through anec­dotes about her life­long ex­pe­ri­ence with the con­di­tion. In The Op­po­site of Lone­li­ness, Kee­gan ex­tols the virtues of cam­pus life while ex­press­ing ap­pre­hen­sion about the un­cer­tain­ties of post-univer­sity world. De­spite her short life, Kee­gan’s fic­tion and non­fic­tion have served as a voice for her gen­er­a­tion. How sad that she didn’t live long enough to reach her full po­ten­tial, yet how for­tu­nate we are that a body of her work lives on through the pub­li­ca­tion of this book. Bev San­dell Green­berg is a Win­nipeg

writer and edi­tor.

KEE­GAN FAM­ILY PHOTO

The Op­po­site of

Lone­li­ness

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