Name one quality that separates the old from the young. I would say, it is josh — an unabashed enthusiasm for all that is now, and a gung honess for all that will happen. The Opposite of Loneliness , by Marina Keegan, is a book throbbing with josh and “a love for everything... because everything is so beautiful and so short”. This collection of essays and stories is special for many reasons. For one, its author is 22 years old. Two, its author died when she was 22. This posthumous work was a The New York Times bestseller and Goodreads Choice Award Winner 2014 for best nonfiction.

Keegan graduated magna cum laude from Yale University in May 2012. Her résumé already sparkled with a list of achievements — intern in The New Yorker’s fiction department, research assistant to literary powerhouse Harold Bloom, president of Yale College Democrats. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at The New Yorker . Five days after graduation, on her father’s 55th birthday, her boyfriend and she were driving to her parents’ house. He fell asleep at the wheel. The car hit a guardrail and rolled over twice. He escaped unhurt. Keegan died on the spot.

It is impossible to review posthumous collections, especially that of a young adult, objectively. As Anne Fadiman, Adjunct Professor of English at Yale, writes in the introduction of the book, “High on their posthumous pedestals, the dead become hard to see. Grief, deference, and the homogenizing effects of adulation blur the details, flatten the bumps, sand off the sharp corners.” It is impossible to read this work and not wonder, ‘what would Keegan have done had she lived longer, what would she have written, what awards would she have won’. But even without the conjecture of lost potential and the weight of grief clouding one’s judgement, this book is remarkable not because the author died young but because she lived so well. Keegan once told a friend, “I’ve decided I’m going to be a writer. Like, a real one. With my life.” This collection is testimony to the fact that she was already a writer. And a fine one at that.

The triumph of this novel is its authenticity. The refrain “We’re so young. We’re so young” echoes through the work. Youth here is a thing of optimism and curiosity, of possibilities and hopefulness. Keegan is plenty funny and even ironic, but there isn’t an instance of jadedness in this collection. It is not surprising that someone so eager about life would ask the question ‘what is the opposite of loneliness’. She writes, “It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team… I’m scared of losing the web we are in. This elusive indefinable opposite of loneliness. This feeling I feel right now.”

What is loneliness, after all, than the dread that there is no web, the fear that each of us is flotsam and jetsam unconnected and unanchored? Keegan’s short stories grapple with different kinds of loneliness, whether it is a college student who has to speak at her boyfriend’s memorial or the estrangement of a family that is “just functional enough to be functional” or that of a 60-something woman with “wilting breasts and varicose veins”.

Students of journalism are often advised to write what they know. On one hand, Keegan does exactly that. ‘Cold Pastoral’ — first published in in September 2012 — is the finest short story in the collection. It teases to life the ambiguities of young love, revealing how casualness is used to mask insecurities and how euphemisms stand in for emotions. The plot is tight, the characters compelling, and with each read you find something new to marvel at. Keegan’s characters smoke spliffs, hold hands on the hoods of cars, play in bands, act on stage, bear tattoos whose meanings they don’t know, and text half-a-dozen people when lonely. They are just normal 20-year-olds, those who live and love fiercely.

Like any confident writer, Keegan is also unafraid to write of what she does not or may not know. Be it a 43-year-old woman who has just adopted a child and isn’t over the man she loved at 23 or the ‘deputy secretary of housing and redistribution’ based in Baghdad. These are strong short stories, but do not share the zest of the ones that deal with younger protagonists dwelling in college campuses.

The nonfiction in this collection could be categorised under the single title ‘I want to understand’. Keegan asks why humans care about whales when they make no bones about scaling, gutting and seasoning thousands of smaller fish with thyme and lemons. In the delightfully named ‘Even Artichokes have Doubts’, she tries to figure out why 25 per cent of Yale graduates will enter the consulting or finance industry. She writes, “There’s something sad about so many of us entering a line of work in which we’re not (for the most part) producing something, or helping someone, or engaging in something we’re passionate about.” Even while quotes from various people bog down this essay, her concern is shared by intellectuals and academics across the board.

In the last essay, ‘Song for the Special’, Keegan writes presciently, “Vaguely, quietly, we know we will be famous… I want tiny permanents. I want gigantic permanents! I want what I think and who I am captured in an anthology of indulgence I can comfortingly tuck into a shelf in some labyrinthine library.”

In The Opposite of Loneliness Keegan found herself a gigantic permanence, and in her words readers will find the chance to fall in love with everything.