No-Accounts by Tom Glenn
Apprentice House, 2014
Reviewed by Lyle Carating
Tom Glenn’s No-Accounts (Apprentice House, 2014) may be fictional, but it contains an abundance of woeful truths. Set in the 1980s when the AIDS scare was at its peak, No-Accounts is told from the perspectives of Peter, a 31-year-old gay dancer dying of AIDS, and Martin, a college professor who is assigned to Peter through the Charbonne Clinic’s buddy program. In a novel full of loneliness, suffering, and self-discovery, Tom Glenn is able to insert reflections of his own experiences working with AIDS patients through the mournful events in No-Accounts.
In what is a mostly character-driven novel, personalities are highlighted and developed through dialogue. One of the most wonderful aspects of reading No-Accounts is the colorful language. Martin, a recently divorced straight man, struggles to understand Peter’s lifestyle at first. Their contrasting personalities demonstrate some humorous events, such as when Martin has to bathe Peter:
“Peter watched himself in the mirror. ‘Everybody always said I was so sexy. They all said I had a big, beautiful cock.’ He looked down at himself. ‘You never said anything about it.’
‘Get in,’ Martin said.
‘You think it’s beautiful?’
‘Stunning. Get in.’
‘Peter sighed and climbed into the tub. Warm water slurped over his body. ‘You’re making fun of me. And my cock.’
‘Peter, you’re asking the wrong guy. Ask somebody who appreciates cocks.’”
Martin is often pestered by Peter’s self-centered and sexual comments; Peter even comes onto Martin throughout the novel. Although Peter’s behavior is unacceptable to Martin, it is delightful to see Martin slowly become assimilated to Peter’s personality.
However, the novel does not simply consist of silly interactions between Peter and Martin. They often get into heated arguments, typically stemming from Peter’s feelings of anxiety. It is through these arguments in which Glenn is able to elicit empathy from the reader, as Martin is often stuck in conflict with Peter’s difficult questions:
“‘Martin, do you forgive me for being gay?’
Martin watched him.
‘Do you forgive me for getting AIDS?’ Peter’s face contorted. ’Do you think God forgives me?’ Peter shook his head. Tears started down his cheeks. ‘I’m one of His mistakes.’”
These verbal quarrels between Martin and Peter continue to develop their relationship, demonstrating their struggles in trying to understand both each other and themselves. Glenn does a fantastic job in making each and every one of their conversations meaningful, rather than presenting themselves as hollow banter. Peter’s narcissistic personality and Martin’s conservative outlook on life clash perfectly throughout the novel, enabling the reader to become invested in their often rocky relationship.
Not only is the dialogue particularly strong in No-Accounts, but the vivid descriptions and imagery certainly provide the reader with more than enough detail about the symptoms of AIDS. I cannot remember the last time I read a book that used the word “diarrhea” as much as Glenn used it in No-Accounts. However, this certainly is not a knock on the book; it is simply the harsh reality of a patient diagnosed with AIDS. The repeated descriptions of Peter’s soiled pajamas and sweat-filled bed may sound repulsive at first, but it enables the reader to understand how serious the disease is.
Peter’s parents are disconnected to his situation, as he has yet to tell them about his condition. He is afraid they will not accept his lifestyle. Peter’s situation mirrors the isolation that AIDS victims experienced in the 1980s, when society and even the medical field looked down on people diagnosed with the disease. In fact, people were afraid to even associate with homosexuals, let alone people with AIDS. Glenn is wonderful at demonstrating the anxiety AIDS victims have, along with their longing for companionship.
Peter and Martin live vastly different lifestyles, yet they are both searching for ways to overcome their struggles. They both seek forgiveness and ways to move forward, starting with their relationships with people they have hurt in the past. Because of their injured relationships with people close to them, they have no support system, other than each other. Indeed, No-Accounts is about a patient dying of AIDS. However, it serves as much more than that; it demonstrates the power of forgiveness and companionship through Peter and Martin’s experiences together. You will feel satisfied after investing your time reading this one.