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Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir


Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir

Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem, “We Real Cool,” has long been quoted as a warning against the evils of wasted youth. But even coming in at well under 50 words, it is about so much more and can be read in so many ways. Brian Broome’s affecting memoir, PUNCH ME UP TO THE GODS, uses “We Real Cool” to divide and structure the narrative, lending both the poem and his story an immediate power.

Another compelling device Broome employs is what he has titled “The Initiation of Tuan.” Watching a toddler named Tuan with his father during a cross-city bus ride, Broome begins to reflect on his own life --- his experiences as a Black man, a gay man, and particularly as a Black gay man. His childhood poverty, his reliance on drugs and alcohol, and his fraught relationship with his family are all shared with a ferocious honesty and a cutting insight.

"PUNCH ME UP TO THE GODS is raw and beautiful, a wonder of writing and reflection, and an absolute marvel."

Born and raised in Ohio in the 1970s and ’80s, Broome was dark-skinned, poor and obviously different from the other kids --- different from the white kids, different from the straight kids, different from the middle-class and wealthy kids, not to mention different from the cool kids. At a young age, Broome was painfully aware of just how different he was, and neighborhood peers and even his siblings wouldn’t let him think otherwise. Bullied and harassed, assaulted and mocked, he found little solace anywhere.

PUNCH ME UP TO THE GODS moves roughly forward in time, finding Broome as a young adult looking for companionship and acceptance, fueled by drugs and alcohol at seedy venues and still feeling lonely and misunderstood. His ruminations take him back to key moments and conversations, to the memories that informed his life, for better or for worse. Along the way he rethinks the motivations of his parents, trying to understand their perspectives and the traumas that they suffered. And he keeps coming back to the present moment on the bus, watching Tuan respond to the cues he receives about Blackness, masculinity and community.

There are instances of gallows humor here as well, such as Broome’s mother’s disappointment with the physical image of crooner Luther Vandross during an appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” This moment, however, is complicated by how Broome feels that Vandross’ reception reflects on him. More than laughter, readers will find horror in these pages. But more than anything, they will find an abiding humanity shared in gorgeous writing and aching detail.

This is such a rich and emotionally complex memoir that tackles not issues, but the real-life experiences of a person who cannot be so easily reduced. For Broome, clarity begins with a radical departure, following the path of James Baldwin to France and seeking out, as he writes to Tuan, possibilities that seem limitless. This hopeful note, which is not saccharine or naive, ties the knot of tenderness that threads through this often flinty book.

Yona Harvey’s amazing introduction is not to be skipped over. In it, readers will find analysis of the memoir and its relationship to Baldwin’s life and work. Even without the perspicacity that Harvey provides, PUNCH ME UP TO THE GODS is raw and beautiful, a wonder of writing and reflection, and an absolute marvel.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on May 22, 2021

Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir
by Brian Broome

  • Publication Date: May 3, 2022
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0358695252
  • ISBN-13: 9780358695257