My Novels (2)

My second novel, No-Accounts, published by the Naval Institute Press in 2014, is the only one of my books that does not deal directly with Vietnam. But it was the result of my Vietnam experience.

When I returned to the U.S. in May 1975 after the fall of Saigon, I was diagnosed with amoebic dysentery and pneumonia due to being cooped up without food or sleep for days on end as the North Vietnamese laid siege to the city. Worse was the disease I’ve written extensively about here, Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), a spiritual/psychological malady. One method I found to help me cope was working with others worse off than I was. I volunteered to care for men dying of AIDS during the height of the epidemic. I learned that when my attention was focused on people who needed my help, my PTSI symptoms and the memories that caused them faded into the background.

Over a five-year period, I worked with seven men with AIDS. They were all gay, and they all died. I was so moved by the experience that I wrote a novel about a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS. That was No-Accounts.

The title comes from the term one of the two protagonists, Peter, the gay man with AIDS, applies to his straight caretaker, Martin. He learned the term from his southern mother. She used it to designate worthless men, non-achievers. Martin accepts the judgment. He has largely failed at everything he tried to do during his life—he has a dead-end job, his marriage has failed, his daughter won’t speak to him.

Peter, in an entirely different way, is a no-account, too. Intelligent, handsome, and charming, he has wasted his life on frivolous pursuits becoming a star on the gay bar circuit. When he gets sick, his gay admirers abandon him.

No-Accounts is the story of two failed men who come together and help each other to find decency in their lives. As Peter, near death, tells Martin, “We’re not no-accounts anymore. We’re men now.”

No-Accounts has not sold as well as my other books, but it has been the greatest critical success. I have heard from many people damaged by the AIDS crisis who thanked me for telling their story.

More tomorrow.

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