My first impressions of “The Key,” by Brian Broome

Also: This Sunday is the last day to sign up for our discussion next Sunday, October 24

Hi Article Clubbers! One question I get from many of you is, “Mark, what do you think about the articles?” My tendency is to deflect, because what we think, for me, is more important than what I think.

But I get it — and am honored that many of you want to know my thoughts, especially given that I choose most of the articles (except next month!). So here goes.

The first thing that I want to share is that I’ve been a big fan of Brian Broome ever since reading “79” back in 2018. I featured the piece in The Highlighter, followed him on Facebook, listened to his Moth stories, and eventually reached out to interview him for the podcast. “79” was unlike anything I’d ever read: beautiful, painful, direct, raw, unflinching, and honest.

Mr. Broome and I are mostly different. He’s a talented writer. He suffered from addiction and went to rehab. He’s Black. I’m none of those things. We’re both gay, sure, and around the same age, and though those things matter, my connection to his writing has more to do with his ability to observe, notice, and tell the truth, plainly and honestly.

Yes, even when it hurts.

That’s probably why I selected “The Key” for Article Club. I could have chosen any chapter from Mr. Broome’s memoir, Punch Me Up to the Gods. They’re all good. (Yes, I recommend that you buy the book.) But “The Key” hit me on many levels.

No, it wasn’t the bar scene that resonated most for me. But I was disgusted by Bertrand from the beginning. Even with his prosthetic, he’s not a sympathetic character. His racism is horrific, of course, but nearly as bad is his obliviousness. I suppose I connected a bit with his desire to be a “good white person,” as I’ve fallen into that trap plenty of times. But all the scenes with Bertrand — from the bar to the bedroom to the basketball court — they’re atrocious.

More painful for me, though, were Mr. Broome’s flashbacks to childhood. These I connected with deeply. It was as if he were retelling scenes from my life. Though I played sports well enough, and generally avoided bullying, and had a few good friends, much of my time was spent “lag[ging] behind the group,” making sure I was never the center of attention, never saying anything controversial, always staying agreeable. I had plenty of ways to steer clear of danger. All I had to do was be a little less myself. Mr. Broome had fewer ways through, but my sense is, even if he did, he wouldn’t have taken them. Even though he didn’t say so explicitly in his book, my feeling is that he lived his childhood more consciously and authentically than I did.

OK, I could go on – but I’ll save my thoughts about the locker room scene, the bus scene, and the final scene for our discussion next Sunday. I look forward to hearing what you think, too.

A few announcements before I go:

  • This Sunday is the last day to sign up for this month’s discussion next Sunday, October 24, 2:00 - 3:30 pm PT. You can sign up here.

  • I invite you to contribute to our group annotation of Mr. Broome’s piece. Here are my annotations.

  • Like many people, Mr. Broome did not appreciate Dave Chappelle’s recent Netflix special. Here is his opinion in The Washington Post.

  • Last week, I got an opportunity to chat with Mr. Broome about “The Key.” Look for the interview in your email this Sunday or Monday. Or if you’re a podcast listener, you can subscribe on Apple Podcasts or elsewhere.

Hope you have a great weekend! Thank you for being part of Article Club. Always know that I welcome you to share your thoughts, ask your questions, and offer your concerns. All you need to do is hit reply!

Article Club is a community of thoughtful people who read, annotate, and discuss one great article every month on race, education, or culture. Everyone is welcome. The author participates, too. Article Club is part of The Highlighter, a weekly newsletter featuring the best articles on race, education, and culture.