“[A]s my mom and I both know she failed to love me right, we also both know she always did love me,” writes Sung Yim in their new memoir, What About the Rest of Your Life. “That’s why love can be both arbitrary and dangerous.”
That line contains Yim’s central throughline: the way loving an abuser can mean eventually conflating love with abuse, and Yim’s ongoing journey to reprogram this particular piece of their consciousness. What About the Rest of Your Life is a bit of a stretch for local press Perfect Day Publishing. It’s more challenging than its more easygoing predecessors, which isn’t a critique, but a sign of progress. This is new territory, and it’s exciting to see the local press take on a promising young writer’s debut memoir.
It’s also not an easy book to read.
What About the Rest of Your Life is very tonally raw, and contains descriptions of interpersonal violence that are detailed and disturbing. (That’s not an argument for avoiding this book, unless, of course, it’s an argument for avoiding this book, in which case, please take care of yourself.) Throughout, Yim also addresses the experience of being a bilingual South Korean immigrant in Illinois, writing, “Xenophobia doesn’t always look like a monument of shame. It doesn’t always look like ridicule and jeering. It looks like a room full of people and nobody to sit with.... No one, big public humiliation. Many small, private disappointments.” Yim also documents the reverberations of past trauma into present relationships, as when they write about a new, kind partner apologizing “for things he didn’t do to me.”
What About the Rest of Your Life has been blurbed by Elissa Washuta, and was generously reviewed by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore for Bomb magazine. Both associations feel appropriate to Yim’s text, which shares the urgency and spare language of Washuta’s excellent My Body is a Book of Rules, as well as its thematic emphasis on the circular nature of trauma. A strength Sycamore and Washuta share is their ability to tackle terrible things in work that feels whole and satisfyingly complex without resorting to false resolutions or shallow platitudes. Charting addiction, bipolar disorder, intergenerational trauma, domestic violence, and systemic racism, Yim’s work does the same. It’s brave not because of the topics Yim takes on (there is no shortage of so-called “addiction” memoirs) but because of how Yim treats them—with honesty and respect for the real complexity of survival.
At one point, Yim directly addresses this quality in correspondence with their publisher included within the text: “I feel like people want everybody to RECOVER and the story of long term coping doesn’t look like any kind of valuable revelation.” Maybe it doesn’t look like one, but What About the Rest of Your Life is one. This messy, challenging book is itself a testament to the value of capturing recovery as it really is, rather than the way we would like to imagine it.
What About the Rest of Your Life
by Sung Yim
(Perfect Day Publishing)