Category Archives: padgett powell

Abandoning Plot and All That Junk

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.

A Novel Written Solely in Questions

Am reading Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? right now and it’s actually very good, in spite of (or because of) its appalling constraint.

And Rick Moody’s review thereof is a good read as well:

Yes, it’s true. Padgett Powell’s new “novel” is a highly allusive prose work composed entirely of questions. Many reviewers of this book, I suspect, will attempt to admonish the questioner with further questions, wondering at the gumption of the thing. But it might be useful instead to answer some of the questions posed. In this regard I have chosen questions at random, at intervals of about twenty pages, in the hopes of giving the flavor of the whole, while, at the same time, attempting some context for this offhanded, witty, original, and altogether unique book.

Q: Are your emotions pure?

A: This very first inquiry in The Interrogative Mood suggests . . .

And now a question of my own: Can anyone think of a novel that attempted to do this previously? Seems like there must be one somewhere in the annals of literature . . .


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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