|THE FINAL AUDIT
Author: Ronald Alexander
In Ronald Alexander's debut novel, The Final Audit, Dexter Giles lives a double life, balancing a straight-jacketed career in the homophobic towers of corporate culture with his secret world as a gay man. He is of a generation still haunted by pre-Stonewall sensibilities. In this novel of linked stories, Dexter circumnavigates the years surrounding his retirement from Imperial Petroleum by conducting a personal accounting: he brings a mathematical logic to settling old debts, recomputing profit/loss statements of friendships, and closing the books on completed trans-actions with former lovers. In the process of attempting to reconcile the polarities of his existence, Dexter, succeeds in ways both comic and touching in escaping his buttoned-down existence and in coming to terms with his own mortality.
Ronald Alexander is a Pushcart-nominated writer whose work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The James White Review, and Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art. His novella, Romanze For Martha, was a finalist in the St. Andrews Novella Competition. He lives in Venice, California.
Topics to Consider
1. The Final Audit is a novel-in-stories. How does this way of telling Dexter's story affect you differently than a novel with a traditional beginning, middle and end? Do you know more or less about Dexter? What kinds of information have you filled in about his life?
2. The stories in this novel are not in chronological order. Does that make your understanding of the central character, Dexter, easier or more difficult? What is the chronology of Dexter's life?
3. What personal characteristics does Dexter possess which you admire or respect? What characteristics do you dislike? Do these positive and negative qualities make him seem more or less human?
4. How does the title of this book function as a metaphor for Dexter's life? If The Final Audit is a metaphor for the whole novel, how do the titles of some of the other stories ("Beautiful Carpets," "Necessary Repairs," "Part of the Process," and "Technicalities" for example) work as metaphors?
5. Dexter grew up before the so-called "gay rights movement" began in the 1960's. How might his life and personal relationships with co-workers and family differ if he had grown up after the advent of the movement?
6. The stories in The Final Audit are told in the third person, past tense. Does this allow you to interpret Dexter thoughts and feeling better than if the author had chosen to tell the story in the first person? How does this choice affect your assessment of Dexter's credibility or reliability?
7. The narrative point of view is constant in this novel, that is, we see events and happenings exclusively through Dexter's eyes. How does this affect your perception of the other characters in the book? Do you share Dexter's opinion of his family, friends, and co-workers? If not, how does your opinion differ?
8. Does Dexter have many friends? How would you describe his relationship with Jean Paul? Is it a friendship? With Antonio? With Tula? How do you compare these three relationships? Do you consider them close? If not, why aren't they close?
9. Illness and death are recurrent themes in The Final Audit. How do the issues of life and death - again with regard to his co-workers, friends and family - affect Dexter? Is Dexter concerned about his own health? How does he feel about growing old? What are his concerns for his future?
10. Even though the novel is not told in chronological order, do you find that Dexter has changed at the end of the book? If so, how has he changed and what events brought about his transformation? If you believe that Dexter hasn't changed, cite scenes or dialogues, which support your view?
11. What hobbies or interests does Dexter pursue which give him pleasure? How does a sense of humor help Dexter cope with events?
12. Consider the epigraph (from Thomas Mann's Death in Venice) that Alexander has chosen for The Final Audit: "How dare you smile like that! No one is allowed to smile like that!" Do you read this epigraph ironically or seriously? What does your choice indicate about your response to the effect of detail and meaning in this novel?