by author Laura Hurwitz
I am writing this on the heels of a two-week beach vacation, during which I had the gift of time to read.
Beach reads are, by definition, light, easily digestible fare. And while attention spans tend to be shortened when the senses are constantly diverted by pounding surf and five o’clock cocktails, I prefer to read bite-sized quality as opposed to gorging on the literary equivalent of junk food. That’s why I’ve been loving short stories.
A writing teacher of mine once said novels are too large for perfection, but short stories are small enough that they can be polished to near-flawlessness. They can also be read in one sitting and reflected upon for hours, making them the perfect beach read.
This summer, one collection of short stories stood out for me: The Opposite of Loneliness, by a young writer named Marina Keegan. Keegan was twenty-two years old when, five days after graduating magna cum laude from Yale and poised to embark on an already- promising literary career, she was killed in a car accident.
- The stories in The Opposite of Loneliness have no common theme. Keegan explores a variety of relationships, romantic and familial, and every plot is distinctive. One story, “Cold Pastoral”, explores a young woman’s reaction to the sudden death of a quasi-boyfriend; another, the terrifying “Challenger Deep,” is about a submarine that catastrophically loses power, trapping its crew in darkness at the bottom of an unfathomable ocean trench.
- Keegan writes headlong, her youthful zest shaded by an oddly prescient wisdom. She has a natural ability to pace her stories, and her dialogue is effortlessly uncontrived.
- One of the reviews of her work claims Keegan is “not merely a gifted college writer, but a gifted writer.”
- This is intended as an accolade, I’m sure, but I disagree. The fact that Keegan is a college writer is precisely why she is so remarkable. She wrote from the perspective that her entire life, with its plans, dreams, and endless possibilities, stretched out before her. She wrote from the carpe diem edge, embodying the unshakeable conviction that her words would someday make a difference to the world. She was, in her own words, the “Yes to everything!”
- The Opposite of Loneliness is the enduring record of a gifted college writer’s urgent voice, cut short. That it is published posthumously adds a layer of poignancy to Keegan’s words, but even cut loose from the tragic backstory, the narratives shine. They are immediately engaging, which is the single most important attribute of any successful short story.
After summer is over and the beach is but a distant memory, short stories make for great year-round reading. One of my all-time favorites is Shirley Jackson’s grim, iconic “The Lottery,” which definitely inspired The Hunger Games. I also recommend these collections: Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House, Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and Tillie Olsen’s Tell Me a Riddle.
Laura Hurwitz is a graduate of Yale University. She is the author of six travel-essay books, maintains a popular blog, and recently began a podcast (parents, please note the content and language). Laura lives with her husband, Sam, and, on occasion, some number of her six adult children in Connecticut.
What’s one of your favorite beach reads?