Shigekuni sums up a lot of what I felt for The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?, Padgett Powell book composed of nothing but questions. As he says, it isn’t a book that tries to fit a clearly atypical form on a typically novelistic story. No, quite to the contrary, Powell happily embraces the form he’s devised for himself and jettisons everything you thought a novel should be:
The Interrogative Mood is an interesting kind of novel (and why not run with it and call it that). On the surface, there is no plot, there are no characters, there are just questions. 164 pages of unceasing, unflagging questions, one after another. When I heard that the book consisted solely of questions, a few ideas came into my head about how a plot might be constructed through questions, but I didn’t expect this. The endless stream of questions appears to be a barrage of non-sequitur inquiries, some humorous, some not, some political, some not, many very silly, many not. The second question of the book is “Are your nerves adjustable?”, third question “How do you stand in relation to the potatoe?”, fourth question “Should it still be Constantinople?”, sixth question “In your view, do children smell good?”. And so on. The wealth of questions is quite overwhelming, but in a good way. When Powell set out to write a book composed solely of questions, this is exactly what he did, unlike other writers, he didn’t cloak a cheaply traditional, sentimental book with experimental cloth. He really wrote an experimental book that is truly unlike any book I’ve read so far. What makes it so unique is the fact that these questions appear to form an incoherent stream of impromptu ideas, a rambling book with, at best, novelty factor, but that in Powell’s hands, they acquire a subtle coherence, a voice, direction and meaning. The book is both coherent and rambling at once, depending upon the degree of care which one applies to the text. It’s a text glittering with subtleties.
In my read, the book often felt a lot closer to a piece of instrumental music or Abstract Expressionist painting than any novel I’ve read recently. But, oddly enough, it was such a fun, compelling read that I could see myself recommending it to someone who doesn’t really bother with fiction beyond good old realism.