A History of Scars

In a series of personal essays, Laura Lee examines the various scars that have speckled her life, from the physical to the emotional, the superficial to the most profound, those that have healed and those that are a in a continuous state of healing. Growing up as a queer Korean American child of immigrants, Lee confronts grief, psychosis, affection, and confidence in ways that are universally understood, if not usually so brilliantly written about.

Her meticulous handling of the facts of her life makes for an unsettling read as you witness the ways in which she struggles, a discomfort that is masterfully managed from the first page to the last. We should be uncomfortable reading the intimate details of a persons’ life, and though it can be made easier with rock climbing metaphors and the traditions and narratives of food in Asian (American) communities, there is also something to be said for embracing the discomfort. Feel your feelings (as Glennon Doyle would tell you). There is power in leaving a space for empathy and compassion, for not expecting every story to have an ending, every tragedy a turning point, every pain a scar.

“How long is an acceptable amount of time before you can trust yourself to be whole, before you can trust others to see the value you might have to offer?” Lee asks in the title essay. Is it the time it takes to write a book, or the time it takes someone to read it? Throughout these essays it often feels as though Lee is wondering if she trusts herself yet to tell these stories, and if the reader will trust her by the end of them. In describing her father, she says, “He has tried to discredit me to myself. To tell me I am an unreliable narrator. His arguments change rapidly, in the style of someone who has a great deal to gain in denying.” Lee has learned that there is more to be gained in admitting than in denying, and so this is a collection of admissions. Admitting to a family history of violence and trauma, admitting to being uncomfortable with labels, admitting to her diagnosis of schizophrenia, and admitting to the way all those facets inform her current state of intimacy, partnership, socialization, life.

Laura Lee’s essays center around similar themes that speak in constant conversation to each other from between the page breaks. Beginning with a heavy focus on her experience as a rock climber, Lee sets an expectation that she is adept at grappling, at searching for alternate routes and at constant reevaluation. These will all prove invaluable skills in writing about the wounds of her past and wondering if there is a way to close them. In climbing, she tells us, there is an assumed risk. Scars received from climbing are as voluntary as scars can be; we aren’t given the choice to assume the risks of our family, of our lives. The first few essays of the book are heavily intertwined with climbing as activity and as metaphor, and, for a reader not already familiar with the terminology, this can seem heavy. Then, as the climbing references fall away and shifts into issues concerning mental health, there is an imbalance you feel as a reader which is poetically perfect. It is an uneven journey, but purposefully so. Nothing comes across so clearly in nonfiction writing as intention, and Lee has made her intentions clear, and given us the best path to get there.

Lee’s closing essay, Fururity, in which she illuminates the way her schizophrenia manifests and how that has shaped the narrative you have read and what you may next hear about her, will take a moment to process, so give yourself a cushion of time between setting this book down and going about your day. Reading “A History of Scars” feels a little like making your way down a winding river and coming to rest in a deep pond. Lee has opened herself up to her readers in every essay of this collection, but this final vulnerability feels as though she’s deciding to trust her readers, and so too trust herself. “I can exist on paper,” she says, “but existing in real life is another matter.” Her existence in these collected essays is raw and revealing. They are also a reminder that even as we heal, the scars may linger.

About this book

  • ISBN:9781982127282
  • Price:$16.99
  • Page Count:208