I must confess that this might be the most difficult book review I’ve ever written. I don’t know if this affects the quality (let’s hope not), but it certainly made writing this review a challenge. Let me explain why.
Marina Keegan, the author of this collection of fiction and nonfiction short pieces, is dead. She was killed when she was 22 in a car accident just days after graduating at the top of her class from Yale. She had a job lined up at The New Yorker, too, and an apartment in New York City waiting for her.
To say that I feel sorry for the author, her family and friends is obvious, but what is less clear is if this has impacted my opinion of her writing. It’s impossible not to read her stories with a sort of cloud hanging over my head. The image of her on the cover is also haunting. She’s the very image of ‘bright future’ in her sharp yellow coat and optimistic smile. However, I must emphasize that her writing, with whatever shadows that loitered around me, is remarkably good. As a reader, it’s rare to come across a book that speaks to you so effortlessly; perhaps it was because we are just years apart, or because Keegan knew herself so well. Regardless, this collection embodies her talent and promise. As I read this book, especially her nonfiction, I felt as though I knew Keegan.
I saw her in her yellow coat driving her much-loved and rather messy 1990 Camry down the road. I imagined her speaking at her Yale graduation, as though I were in the crowd. She seems like someone I would have casually bumped into at a party near campus. I would remember her afterward for being strikingly pretty, funny and utterly charming. She’s someone I would have eagerly stalked on Facebook or followed on Twitter.
But then I pause, remember she’s gone and gingerly set down her posthumous collection.
None of us will ever know Keegan expect through the pages of her remarkable writing. But, in a sense, there’s no way we could know her better either. Again, it’s impossible not to feel sad or wince at the unfortunate irony of it all, but that shouldn’t define your reading of this work. Instead, I let the context enhance my reading experience and, what’s more, I’m glad I did.
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