Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book Review: The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? by Padgett Powell

Book Review:  The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? by Padgett Powell

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1St Edition edition (September 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061859419
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061859410

It sounds like a gimmick, too clever for its own good:  how else could you write a novel (if that's what this is) using only a series of questions?  I picked up this brief book expecting a quick amusing read.  Instead, the questions stopped me at every turn, left me bemused, thoughtful, immersed in unexpected memories triggered by seemingly random questions.  

This book demands a slow, attentive reading.  The unnamed narrator addresses you, the reader, with some very personal questions.  The narrative insists on a response, even if it's just a quick  mental yes or no, maybe or it depends, and some queries require significant consideration before the reader can move on to the next question, usually an apparent non sequitur.  Yet despite all the randomness, the narrator gradually reveals, through repeated questions and thematically similar scenarios, a certain preoccupation with mortality.  The questions repeatedly touch upon the notion of assessing your own life, determining exactly what kind of person you are, in scenarios both realistic and bizarre, commonplace and profoundly off-putting.  

I read an article once that said unresolved questions preoccupy our minds much more than neat resolutions; not knowing with any certainty who was asking all these questions and why, what the questions were for, even in a strange way what my own answers meant--all this uncertainty has kept me thinking about The Interrogative Mood for days, and I have a feeling these unanswered questions will stay with me for a long time to come.

  • Genre: existential questionnaire?
  • Read it if:  you love Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker or filling in those little self-knowledge quizzes in magazines
  • Skip it if: you insist on things like plot, characters and declarative sentences
  • Movie-Worthy:  I can't imagine how this could be made into a movie.

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